Williams Kanjee: Jack of all trades

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OTJIWARONGO – Williams Kanjee from Otjinene has become known as a Jack of all trades amongst the farming communities of the Omaheke and Otjizondjupa Regions where he travels extensively to create and sell his exquisite wood carving creations. And as he goes along, he repairs any household appliance that needs attention.

New Era caught up with this entrepreneur last week Friday at the first Okamatapati Agricultural Show in Otjiwarongo, hosted by the Ongombe Farmers Association.

“Desperate times calls for desperate measures, and desperate measures to survive is just what I had to resort to in order to make a living,” the ever-friendly Kanjee says as he unpacks some of his art work under a tree at the Otjiwarongo Show Grounds. 

Kanjee caught a ride with friends from Okakarara last week to showcase his rather unique art. Namibian wood carvers are well-known amongst tourists visiting the country, but Kanjee brought with him unique hand-crafted pieces that caught the eye of many an attendant at the successful show which lasted for five days and saw some 2 000 people passing through the gates.

Kanjee uses only the wood of the tree known as the ‘Omupeta’ in the Herero language, because these trees are in abundance in his area. “But I do not just blindly cut down these trees; I am aware of conserving our indigenous trees, and I mostly use the dead branches of the Omupeta,” he explains.

The first thing that strikes you about this wood carver is his humbleness. “I have tried my hand at many art forms and have learnt that one should always stay humble and work hard if you are to achieve something in life. My work is blood and sweat but without the tears because I find joy in what I do and regard it as a honest profession. My end-pieces bring happiness to their owners and that is important to me, because at the end of another hard day’s work, I know I have achieved something which other people enjoy and I have money in my pocket to buy food,” he says.

Kanjee strips the wooden branches of their bark and then painstakingly goes about burning the pieces over an open fire to get the desired effect. These branches ultimately serve as frame holders for frames that  he also assembles from left-over pieces of wood. “I sometimes have to walk up to 13 km or more a day to find the wood I need. My biggest wish is to be able to buy my own donkey-cart, or even a bicycle to transport my wood. This is hard work, but it is rewarding,” he notes.

He says it takes up to four days to complete six frame holders. “Customers then supply me with the pictures they want mounted in the frames and to complete the picture, so to speak, I hang the framed pictures on the burned and treated tree branches,” he explains.

He uses a hand saw he got from one client and fitted it with a blade from a meat saw, he says the blade is very strong and lasts a long time. He frames pictures in sizes from A4 to A2, and sometimes as big as A1. On special request, he is also prepared to fit light bulbs in various colours and supply the wiring. “Once lit up, these burnt branches provide an exciting background for the framed pictures and they make an ideal gift to be placed in a living room,” he proudly states as he picks up the hand saw to start on yet another branch.

He is also widely known for his skills to repair any electric household appliance, which is something that keeps him busy on off days and earns him another few dollars.