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Ostrich Eggshell Beads

Ostrich eggshell bead making is a 40 000 year-old tradition according to archaeological studies. Bushmen living in Namibia today are still making beads much the same way as their ancestors did thousands of years ago.

The beads were fashioned into simple pieces of body adornment and exchanged as gifts by the original hunter-gatherers who roamed southern Africa. Today, however, the making of ostrich eggshell jewellery is an important source of income for several Ju/’hoansi and !Kung communities in Namibia.

The shards of ostrich eggs (sourced from commercial ostrich farms) are broken into tiny pieces. Each piece is rounded by chipping the edges with a piece of metal or nail clippers. The beads are sometimes placed into tiny holes carved into a block of wood or onto a stone or piece of leather.

Holes are drilled using a handmade tool – usually a sharpened piece of metal attached to a long wooden stick. The stick is then rolled between the palms of the hands to create a twisting movement that etches into the ostrich eggshell bead. The beads are strung on a piece of sinew and then the edges further smoothed using hide or a grinding stone.

Ostrich eggshell jewellery is worn during cultural dances but has mostly been replaced with glass beads.

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Ostrich eggshell bead making Ostrich eggshell bead making

Basket weaving

Open Bowls

Women in the north and north-eastern regions of Namibia weave baskets to harvest pearl millet or maize but more recently as an important livelihood option.

The young fronds of the Hyphaene petersiana (Makalani) palm are split into narrow strips and used as is or dyed beforehand by boiling substances like rust from old tins, aloe leaves, berries, roots, bark, leaves, and cow urine. Tree bark and roots from the Pterocarpus angolensis, Guibourtia coleosperma, Baikiaea plurijuga and Peltophorum africanum, amongst others are used to produce numerous shades of brown, purple and yellow.

Omba has encouraged different techniques to create a variety of shapes and textures for the contemporary market. In the Kavango, North Central and Zambezi regions, the palm is wrapped around an inner coil of grass to create bowl-shaped baskets. The Kavango weavers have taken their weaving into the realm of art – the design of each basket is totally unique and a vehicle for their maker's creativity.

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Soft Baskets

This range has revived the technique used for making traditional beer strainers in the Kavango region. Palm strands are rolled into shape between the palms of the hands. These twisted strands are then sewn together into an 'organic'-shaped container ideal for the contemporary home.

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Collecting Baskets

These baskets are made by Khwe Bushman women in the western part of the Zambezi region and were traditionally used for gathering wild fruit. The technique had all but died out until an old and much-used sample was sourced from an elder in the village. The baskets use a weave and weft technique to make pouch-shaped baskets with a handle. Today over 30 Khwe weavers draw an income from selling their baskets.

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PVC Bracelets

These bracelets, made from recycled PVC, are traditionally worn by the Ovahimba people in the Kunene region but it is not unusual to see people wearing them in the North Central, Kavango and Zambezi regions as well.

The Ovahimba are semi nomadic pastoralists, and like semi nomadic tribes the world over, they love to adorn themselves both for aesthetic purposes and to denote age set and marital status. Fashions change depending on what materials can be sourced and it is not uncommon to find brass (from mortar casings discarded by the military), zips, thumbtacks and the plastic from shampoo bottles integrated into the jewellery.

One theory suggests that the PVC piping replaced horn and ivory. It is, however, more likely a case of creative recycling when building development increased in this remote region.

The recycled pipe is cut into shape and the design etched into the plastic. Various patinas exist naturally or are added by burying the PVC or colouring the designs with natural ochre and fat or commercial paints.

The PVC is then heated and shaped into the bracelet.

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Art-i-San San Bushmen Contemporary Art and Textiles.

Contemporary Bushmen Art

Omba works with several Bushmen/San communities in the Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Ohangwena and West Zambezi regions of Namibia. 60% of the 450 or so crafters that Omba supports are Bushmen.

There are about 100 000 San living in Southern Africa and Namibia is home to almost 33 000. Genetic research tells us that modern humans are descendants of the Bushmen whose origins reach back over one million years ago. Their ancestors lived in small groups hunting herds of game and gathering wild berries and tubers. Yet their once seemingly idyllic life of freedom and abundance has been reduced to one of poverty and marginalisation.

The romantic notion of Bushman living in harmony with nature could not be further from the truth. Only one fifth of Bushmen living in Namibia today have access to their own land. The majority are landless, dependent on food aid, lack access to education, have a life expectancy far below the national mean and remain discriminated against on a daily basis.

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Rock art and engravings are found all over Namibia, the oldest dated 27 000 years, and tell the story of the Bushman’s hunting, mythology and shamanistic rituals. Most Bushmen today have never seen the rock art and engravings of their ancestors, yet they continue to express themselves in a unique way. This creativity is rapidly disappearing as their way of life disintegrates and they are exposed to modern media and stereotypical images.

Omba has been exploring contemporary art as part of a livelihoods programme with several Bushmen communities living on resettlement farms in the Ohangwena region and more recently the Omaheke since 2002. Workshops have been held in various locations including Etosha National Park where Ju/’hoansi and !Kung artists have explored various mediums including oil and watercolour painting, lino printing, wire, wood and glass beads on fabric. Exhibitions of their work have been held in Windhoek, Cape Town and the United Kingdom.

With no formal training, San artists thus retain the purity of their innate visions, and are able to express and give insight into their rapidly fading culture and way of life straight from the heart. For these artists, composition, choice of colour, and other principles and elements of art, form an intuitive part of subject choice and the manner in which they are depicted. They use contemporary art materials and techniques to originally represent animals, weather, insects, the hunter, mythological creatures and many edible plants familiar from the stories passed down from their elders or their daily existence. They reveal what they consider to be distinctive about their culture.
Cheryl Rumbak, Kalk Bay Modern Gallery, Cape Town

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San beaded art San beaded art


Some of the designs have been adapted and used on a textile range sold under Omba's Art-i-San label, but printed and produced in Cape Town, South Africa by Kalk Bay Modern Gallery owner Cheryl Rumbak. The range is marketed in South Africa and Namibia. This collaboration has ensured that each artist is paid a royalty on every meter printed and sold thus sustaining income to artists during the lifespan of the design.