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Arts and Crafts
There are groups of people and organizations promoting indigenous crafts, newly introduced crafts or western art forms. Their products can be purchased in curio, craft, gift shops and malls in Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane and at safari camps in the Okavango and Chobe regions.
Botswana baskets are widely regarded as some of the finest in Africa, and certainly the best in southern Africa. Their high quality, outstanding workmanship and originality have gained them international recognition, and they are now exported 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.
Many traditional basket designs are representations of animals and of nature. Many basket-makers say they do not know the origins of these designs, but some claim they were taken from the designs of Mbukushu beaded skirts and aprons.
Traditionally, baskets had many practical uses - to store seeds, grains, to transport food, etc. The shape of the basket varied according to its function. With the introduction and adoption of mass-produced western buckets, bottles and pots, basket making declined.
In 1973, Botswanacraft Marketing Company, hoping to generate income for rural Batswana, began buying Ngamiland baskets and other crafts. Since then 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.
A National Museum annual basket exhibition brings the year's best baskets to Gaborone. Visitors to rural areas have the opportunity to purchase crafts directly from the producers.
Few households in Botswana still use traditional pots as receptacles to hold water, and there are only a small number of rural women who still make traditional pottery, mostly to sell. However, the tradition is showing signs of recovery as the tourist market grows. Modern ceramics are produced at several small cottage industries such as those in Gabane, and Thamaga, both near Gaborone.
Unusual, good quality, hand-woven tapestries, carpets, bed covers, jackets and coats are all made from karakul wool. All utilize locally inspired designs and patterns. Oodi Weavers near Gaborone has gained an international reputation for its fine work.
Woodcarving has been used traditionally in the production of the traditional items such as tools, bowls or cups, spoons, all made out of grained wood of the mophane tree. Elsewhere, animal figures may be carved by individuals living in the rural areas, and then brought to the towns to be sold. Artists are now using mophane wood to produce jewellery as well as animal and people figurines.
This is a relatively new craft in Botswana, currently gaining in popularity. It was recently introduced and taught to ivory carvers who, with the worldwide ban on the sale of ivory products, were in danger of losing their livelihoods. Bonecarvers in Botswana produce elegant, finely crafted jewellery and small statuettes, which interestingly have the look and feel of real ivory.
Botswana's best-known leather factory is located in Pilane, near Mochudi (see maps). High quality sandals, bags and cases are made, and marketed in the major towns. Ostrich and buffalo skin items are imported from neighbouring southern African countries and sold in the curio and craft shops around the country.
This is done throughout Botswana, both commercially and non-commercially. Tanned skins, usually of domestic animals such as goats, are still used as floor mats or sleeping mats, both in rural and urban households. The skins of wild animals, generally, but not exclusively, tanned commercially, can be bought in the major towns and cities.
Jewellery made of beads, ceramics, stones and malachite are produced in several local cottage industries, and sold in urban areas of the country.
Tourism and tourists' fascination with the Bushmen have brought a revival of sorts to traditional Bushmen crafts. Bushmen now produce and sell hunting sets, fire-making sticks, beaded jewellery and belts, leather items and musical instruments. Authentic ostrich eggshell beadwork is still made, and the contrast of the creamy white beads on the brown and black leather string makes for very attractive items indeed.
The Mokoro, is the traditional dug-out canoe used by the fishermen of the Okavango Delta. This, typical African craft, was brought to the delta by the Bayei people in the 18th century. Hewn from a single tree, it is a narrow vessel with a rounded bottom and no keel. To the inexperienced these canoes appear extremely precarious, but they are actually surprisingly stable when properly loaded and they are especially suited to shallow delta waters. The vessel is propelled either by paddles or a pole. To protect trees in the delta, many mokoro these days are made of fibre glass.
There are many local artists - both citizens and expatriates. Paintings are sold in local curio shops, or may be displayed in the Gaborone or Francistown malls, but most artists prefer to stage exhibitions in the National Museum, or at their private homes. The National Museum in Gaborone has an annual art competition for all schools in the country, the results of which are usually quite interesting.
The museum also has an annual National Art Exhibition in which all artists living and working in Botswana are invited to participate. The Kuru Development Trust in Ghanzi District is encouraging the growth of Bushmen painting. The National Museum also stages exhibitions from artists outside Botswana.