Products that celebrate rural life in Namibia
The art of embroidery has its roots in ancient Egypt, the Iron Age in Northern Europe, and the Zhou Dynasty of China. The oldest existing example is the Bayeux Tapestry, commemorating the Battle of Hastings and dating from about 1066
Embroidery, unlike most other art forms, has changed very little with advanced technology. A hand embroiderer today would be completely at ease with the techniques, tools and stitches used in antiquity.
In Europe, the technique flourished as a means of decorating otherwise drab textiles for almost three millennia. Two centuries ago, it was considered an important household skill, and young girls made samplers of their work, at least in part, to demonstrate their proficiency to prospective husbands.
These same young girls, as the wives of missionaries, brought their art to Namibia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and imparted the skill to their female parishioners. Over time, Namibian women began modifying the craft, giving it a distinctively African flavour, depicting rural life in vivid colours.
Four retail outlets
Since 1983 the !Ikhoba Project has been taking the artwork of these rural women, primarily the wives of farm workers, and turning it into unique products that continue to celebrate Namibian rural life.
After more than two decades of being based on a family farm near Otjiwarongo, the headquarters of the project was moved to Swakopmund in 2005. Most of the embroidery is still created by women in Otjiwarongo, but a growing number of pieces are being produced at the coast, where the items are finished, washed and pressed before being transported to shops in Windhoek and Swakopmund.
The project manager, Heide Lacheiner-Kuhn, says !Ikhoba products include wall hangings, tablecloths, cushion covers, tablemats, T-shirts, bags, potholders, towels, and bedspreads. “Our designs are based on traditional African art, and are all 100% cotton, and machine washable,” she adds.
The project is renowned for empowering women who otherwise would have remained invisible to the job market. “We provide a regular income to over 350 families, and improve the quality of their lives significantly,” says Heide.
!Ikhoba Project textiles are available at the Namibia Craft Centre and African Chic in the Old Breweries Building in Windhoek, and from I’Khoba Creations and Meme I’Khoba in downtown Swakopmund. (EJ)
In Windhoek: Namibia Craft Centre, +264 (0)61 24 2222; African Chic (Ikhoba@iway.na)
In Swakopmund: I’Khoba Creations, +264 (0)64 40 1134; Meme I’Khoba, +264 (0)64 40 6047
Originally published 10 May 2011