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Crafty hands make treasured jewellery

2022-08-02  Loide Jason

Crafty hands make treasured jewellery

It is early morning in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy – and the fire, as always, belongs to the elders – but for the second day running, the talk at this fire has been on gender equality among the San people. 

Predominantly, female jewellery makers have been camping at the conservancy to produce jewellery pieces for an order worth N$40 000 to feed their families. 

Female traditional craft designers who are part of the craft project at Nyae Nyae Conservancy were working through the night around the fire to make sure they deliver according to the special orders of the Omba Craft Centre. 

The craft centre micro-project was established 30 years ago, and has evolved into a viable way of generating income for the community at Nyae Nyae. 

The truly artisanal craft makers of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy produce traditional jewellery using ostrich egg shells. 

This jewellery is of such an exceptional quality that it is now being exported and sold in Europe. 

Women who spoke to New Era last week in Tsumkwe said they have been involved with the craft project for years and have now used the space to share on social issues, especially to handle abusive men and encourage their children to go to school while they are making handmade crafts. 

When New Era arrived at the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, they were seated in groups of seven to 12, sharing jokes while making crafts.

Some were breastfeeding while hard at work or with babies on their back to make sure they make as many jewellery pieces as possible to get income.

On Monday, they received an order for jewellery worth over N$40 000 to be divided among 70 women, generating vital cash for themselves and their families.

They said they are making the jewellery and increasing their cash flow to buy essential products and goods that would otherwise be out of reach for them and their community. 

Some said the project keeps them busy and away from alcohol abuse.  

“It is proven beyond reasonable doubt that small-scale projects in communities like this one can and do have a real impact and positively contribute to a community. This project has been running for 30 years, and I have been working for it for almost 25 years,” said //Xwa Kxao, an elder who has also encouraged her two daughters to join the project to earn an income.

Kxao said she joined the project to generate income for herself, but she has now benefitted socially and monetarily.  

“I got the skills from my great grandparents – and now I have transferred the knowledge to my two daughters. They are all here with me, and we are making money together. Although I have now started earning social grants for elderly people, I continue because you are benefiting a lot as a woman,” she explained.

She said, when they are together, they learn from each other about culture, family and women issues, especially for young women who just joined the project.

Both her daughters Bee and //Uce /Aai!ae were working with other women, producing pieces to fill the order. 

Xoallan /Ai!ae, another member of the group, said the secret to the project’s success is that it relies on traditional craft skills while updating designs and adding a modern twist. 

However, she said, they lack marketing skills to advertise their product.

According to her, the only market they have is through the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, which gets the big orders and takes them to the Omba Craft Centre.

“We want a direct market so we sell our items directly. We only depend on the conservancy and tourists, who are few now due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are able and hard-working women who do not want poverty and trying hard to empower ourselves using traditional crafts skills,” she said.

The women say they have learned how to save their money and support each other during difficult times and also spend it on productive and valuable things.

“We have groups and appointed one person to save money. We take enough to buy our basic needs – and after that, we buy our goats. We encourage each other how to spend wisely and not squander their money. In some cases, we make up to N$4 000 per order if it is big,” another group member said.

2022-08-02  Loide Jason

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