Authentically Namibian

Sossusvlei Desert Camp
August 31, 2012
Namibian coast: Beach Lodge
August 31, 2012
Sossusvlei Desert Camp
August 31, 2012
Namibian coast: Beach Lodge
August 31, 2012

by Ron Swilling

The atmospheric town of Swakopmund, characterised by its wide roads and picturesque old German architecture, is an ideal place to wander around and discover authentic Namibian crafts. The central shopping area is pedestrian friendly, and attractive shops open into fascinating arcades with coffee shops and restaurants.

Off the Ankerplatz, in the Woermann Haus – an old building with plenty of character and a spacious central courtyard – is Amber Moon, which acts as an outlet for Namibian crafts, as well as an information and booking office for activities and day trips around the town. Desert roses and marimba music CDs are displayed on the counter, opening onto the shop filled with Namibian fare.

Many work groups are represented here, from the beaded Nama good-luck dolls and the colourful material bags of the People in Need group based in Keetmanshoop, to the beautiful basketwork of the Ohandje Artists’ Co-operative. One-thousand-four-hundred weavers from 30 different groups in north-central Namibia form this co-op. When completed, the artist’s name and group is put on each article.

Penduka, a non-governmental development organisation, encourages and supports women throughout the country, producing colourful embroidered table and bedroom linen and other household items, all inspired by African motifs. The Katutura Artists’ Co-op sells bottles of melon-seed oil, marula oil and devil’s claw tea, which is used for medicinal purposes.

Dolls and jewellery

Leather and fabric dolls portray different Namibian groups. The Himba dolls in the brick-red ochre colour are distinctive of the semi-nomadic Himba women, while the Herero dolls are dressed in long, bright traditional dresses dating back to the Victorian styles worn by the wives of missionaries in that era. Bushman/San art from Tsumkwe in eastern Namibia includes bracelets and necklaces made from ostrich eggshell, seeds and hand-carved tamboti wood pieces. This striking and traditional jewellery is displayed amongst small carved tortoises.

Multi-coloured Obashu or homestead paintings depict township life and Morgi’s colour crafts decorated with friendly-looking guinea fowl, add a fun element to candles, cards and an assortment of creative gifts. Kudu leather shoes made by African leather creations, a forty-year-old Swakopmund company, are also featured in the shop.

Around the corner in the Ankerplatz is Desert Life, a community craft shop that sells bright and elegant embroidered work, ranging from wall hangings, tablecloths and placemats featuring animal designs to cushion covers using onyoka shells, collected on the shore by local women to make abstract designs. In Tribes Trading in the adjacent Woermann Mall, ‘Made in Swakopmund’ T-shirts are painted as you watch, producing colourful children’s gifts with animals represented in bright, primary colours.

Namibian essence

Small World creates and sells unique handmade Namibian jewellery. This attractive shop is situated next to the arcade on Sam Nujoma Avenue. Leather, semi-precious stones, ostrich eggshell, Owambo ekipa buttons and Himba metal beads are combined and designed into stylish and original necklaces, bracelets and belts. With the natural materials used, these artistic works hold true Namibian essence. A necklace with a piece of watermelon tourmaline set into a diamond-shaped leather pendant and another with an unusual green garnet centrepiece surrounded by radiating crystal quartz are displayed side-by-side with well-made leather bracelets and belts, creatively designed and embedded with spectacular stones.

Also in Sam Nujoma Avenue, Ikhoba offers a range of well-made embroidered goods in vivid colours, made by the 400 women of various ethnic groups who are part of the Ikhoba Textiles Farm Project. The Ikhoba project, originally started to improve the financial and social situation of the women and their families living on Marburg Farm in the Otjiwarongo District, is now based in Swakopmund and Otjiwarongo. The motifs depicted are traditionally African animals and village scenes.

Karakulia Weavers, in the Nedbank arcade, sells woollen carpets and wall hangings made from karakul wool, woven into designs depicting Namibian animals and desert scenery.

African rhyme and rhythm

Heading south, Maid in Africa in Libertina Amathila Avenue stocks its own vibrant African fabric made into T-shirts, bags, cushions and placemats. The company also produces a range of artistic Namibian postcards, some with African sayings, others capturing interesting township signs and slogans. The cards have an African rhythm and theme, yet are contemporary and modern.

Mokoro Crafts next to the Swakopmund jetty has a wide selection of Namibian crafts and gifts, from painted makalani palm kernels to baskets and carvings.

Wandering through the small town centre or along the beachfront with its German ambience and Namibian charm, there are many appealing gift and curio shops with an array of African goods from around the continent, most carrying a selection of Namibian crafts. A short walk can easily take hours, as Swakopmund lures you with her singular magic, palm trees, crashing sea and surrounding desert. This charm is mirrored in the distinctive and authentic Namibian crafts. Amongst makalani kernels, baskets, ekipa bone buttons, vibrant fabrics, colourful weavings and unique Namibian jewellery is the energy, creativity and spirit of a country translated into craft.

This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘08 edition of Travel News Namibia.


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