The scotching September sun is beating down on sandy terrains on Ngamiland, making the white crystal sand sparkle with a blinding force on a Friday
Theresa Amos sits with two other women under Mophane tree in Sedie ward where they often meet to weave baskets, but today they are just chatting and talking about the rain and the heat.
“I wonder when it will rain,” asked Amos, 58, as she stacks her baskets back in her shoulder bag. She had just managed to sell two to a passer-by.
Besides basketry craft being a pride of Ngamiland and obviously this group’s source of income, their talk is focused on the seemingly changing climate.
I had to chip in and redirect the discussion. Amos speaks about how they used to sit under trees such as these with their mothers and grandmothers who taught them the basket weaving craft.
With a sparkle in her eyes and more power in her voice she says, “This is natural talent that nobody can take away from us. It has been passed on from generation to generation and each one of us here has their own style and unique patterns. It is our pride.”
She further added that their speciality is not limited to patterns but also in perfecting tight shapes and hiding knots,
Known all over the world for their perfection and craft, these baskets according to Christinah Mashego of Women in Business Ngamiland are in high demand.
“They are special and unique in their own way,” explained Mashego.
Crafted from Ngamiland’s enriched natural resources, the lifestyle of Okavango Delta and the co-existence with wildlife is depicted in these baskets. According to the weavers some of the patterns were influenced by stories of women and events they encountered while gathering berries or animals stories told by men from their hunting sprees.
Ngamiland basket weavers say the different patterns and colours such as the forehead of the zebra, tears of the giraffe, flight of the swallows and running ostrich are a few that tell a story which is influenced by the colours, behaviours and beauty of the animals.
For these baskets to take shape, the women have to go to the river or into the Delta, on sandy roads, into wild animal infested forests and sometimes for days just to collect palm trees and reeds, which are their raw materials for the projects.
Although many of these baskets are said to be representative of animals and nature, many weavers are said not to know the origins of the patterns which have been shared from generations to generations with some saying they copied them from Babukushu beaded skirts.
Nonetheless according to Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO), Botswana baskets including those from Ngamiland are widely regarded as some of the finest in Africa, and certainly the best in southern Africa. Their high quality, outstanding artisanship and originality according to BTO have gained them international recognition, with exports to many countries around the world.
“The baskets are made of the mokolwane palm (Hyphaene petersiana), which are cut and boiled in natural earth-tone colouring. The lemao (in Setswana) is the main instrument used to make the baskets. This is a sharpened piece of thick wire set in a wooden handle, which is used to pierce the tight coil and insert and then wrap the palm,” explained BTO in their brochure.
According to BTO, in 1973, BotswanaCraft Marketing Company, hoping to generate income for rural Batswana, began buying Ngamiland baskets and other crafts, “BotswanaCraft and other wholesalers have continued to market Ngamiland baskets and handicrafts which are now exported to North America, Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.”
Further BTO maintains that National Museum annual basket exhibition brings the year’s best baskets to Gaborone and visitors to rural areas have the opportunity to purchase crafts directly from the producers.