Thursday, February 12, 2009

local African crafts

When in the wilderness, the bush, as it's called, what chance would a tourist have of learning about local crafts? More than might be supposed. An intentional side effect of such tourism is support of the local people -- rightly so. I admit that on some trips I have not been very happy with high pressure trips to Turkish rug factories or Peruvian alpaca sweater outlets. These seemed to be thriving businesses anyway. But in this part of low income Africa I did not mind that a group of local women came to our camp with many baskets and spent a half hour explaining the process from stripping the fibers and soaking them to the many kinds of local plants used for dyes. The photo I took didn't turn out. The baskets were handsome, intricate and hte colors restrained.

At another camp we visited a village and were taken to a market that, in fact, set up for us -- full of the usual carvings, baskets, and such -- some very attractive although I felt they made specifically what they had learned sold to tourists, the elephants and giraffes in wood, the printed placemats, etc. This was in Zimbabwe and the people were not only desperately poor but caught in an inflationary political situation that makes America's current economic crisis seem unimportant. I walked through the market and saw nothing that did not look familiar. Much was highly competent and attractive but all seemed cliche.

In a different vein we learned about a more ancient and important craft -- home building. We visited Headman Johnson of a village near Hwange National Park. The main house in the photo had packed clay floors, built-in benches around the sides -- it was not quite round, more oval; it had a thatched roof a few inches above the walls,to allow for ventilation. The walls as in the picture were a rather elegant three different earth shades -- they were made of mud gathered from different termite mounds. The termites make huge mounds, up to 6 or 8 feet tall sometimes. They merely displace the earth as they make labyrinthine tunnels. Why termites choose a particular place, I don't know but it may have red dirt or gray dirt or brown dirt and when it has been chewed up and compacted it makes a clay-like mud. The house builders then simply make the first third of the house one color,then another and another. The result is very pleasing. The wall above Mr Johnson's head, made of an even darker gray, has molded in shelves. See termite mounnd photo I'll add at the top.

Finally more of the always wonderful animals, in this case a herd of wildebeast. The wildebeast remind me of our American bison, only with a much more athletic body. A very young wildebeast is in the foreground. We actually saw one that seem so recentl born it was not yet walking -- it seemed to have been "dropped" just when the mother went to the pond to have an evening drink.

1 comment :

Helen Conway said...

I am enjoying these african posts very much - gives me itchy feet!