Arts and Crafts
Botswana's Rich Cultural Diversity
Botswana's arts and crafts mirror the country's rich cultural diversity, which its many tribes have brought about. Most products can be purchased in curio, craft, gift shops and malls in major cities such as Gaborone, Francistown, Maun and Kasane and at safari camps throughout Botswana.
The decorations known as lekgapho on traditional homes are a very impressive art passed through generations. Although the art is slowly dying because many citizens are now building concrete rather than mud houses, a few traditionally decorated houses can still be seen in some rural areas.
Botswana baskets are widely regarded as some of the finest in Africa. Their high quality, outstanding workmanship and originality have gained them international recognition, and they are now exported to many countries worldwide. The baskets are made of the mokolwane palm (hyphaene petersiana), cut and boiled in natural earth-tone colouring. The lemao (Setswana) is the main instrument used to make the baskets; a sharpened piece of thick wire is set in a wooden handle to pierce the tight coil and insert and then wrap the palm. To obtain coloured fibre, the palm strings are pounded and then soaked in a boiling solution of natural dyes taken from the bark and roots of various plants. Reds are extracted from the bird plum (berchemia discolor), browns from the magic guarri (euclea divinorum), purples from the indigo dye plant (indigofera tinctoria and arrecta) and yellows from the red star apple (diospyros lyciodes). The traditional designs on baskets consist of a few patterns that portray the natural world and are produced using only a few colours. They go by such poetic names as 'Flight of the Swallows', 'Urine Trail of the Bull', 'Tears of the Giraffe', 'Knees of the Tortoise' and 'Forehead of the Zebra'.
Traditionally, baskets have many practical uses – to store seeds, grains, transport food, etc. – and the basket's shape varies according to its function. Tray-type and bowl baskets, which women carry on their heads, are for more general use. This is slow and intricate work; a large basket can take up to two weeks to complete. Basket ware, sold mostly through co-operatives, has become an important source of supplementary income for many rural families and visitors to rural areas can purchase crafts directly from the producers.
Few households in Botswana still use traditional pots, and only a small number of rural women still make traditional pottery, mostly to sell. Clay pots are used for storing water, traditional beer, and cooking. Traditionally, the women within the community are responsible for collecting and moulding the clay. Once the form of the pot has been created, decorative patterns are added using natural oxides. However, the tradition shows signs of recovery as the tourist market demands local pottery. Modern ceramics are produced in several small cottage industries, such as those in Gabane and Thamaga.
Unusual, good quality, hand-woven tapestries, carpets, bed covers, jackets and coats are all made from karakul wool. All utilise locally inspired designs and patterns. Oodi Weavers near Gaborone has gained an international reputation for their fine work.
Woodcarving has been used traditionally in the production of traditional tools, bowls or cups and spoons, all made out of the grained wood of the mophane tree. Elsewhere, animal figures may be carved by individuals living in rural areas and then brought to the towns to sell. Artists are now using mophane wood to produce jewellery as well as animal and people figurines.
Bonecarving 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 figurines, which interestingly have the look and feel of real ivory.
Jewellery made of beads, ceramics, stones and malachite is produced in several local cottage industries and sold in urban areas of the country.
Tourism and tourists' fascination with the Bushmen has 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.
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. These canoes appear extremely precarious to the inexperienced, but they are surprisingly stable when properly loaded and especially suited to shallow Delta waters. The vessel is propelled either by paddles or a pole. Many mekoro these days are made of fibreglass to protect trees in the Delta.
There are many local artists – both citizens and expatriates. Paintings are sold in local curio shops and displayed inGaborone and 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 museum also has an annual National Art Exhibition in which all artists living and working in Botswana are invited to participate. In addition, the Kuru Development Trust in Ghanzi District is encouraging the growth of Bushmen painting.