Working with traditional and modern tools - News - Gondwana Collection

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Working with traditional and modern tools

Avatar of inke inke - 13. November 2018 - Culture

While Petrus Kahilu (in the background) works with modern tools, Peter Kasweka uses a traditional axe on a pounder. Thanks to years of practice he is able to do rough as well as detailed woodwork with this simple tool.

Dirk Heinrich

Peter Kasweka (40) and Petrus Kahilu (42) need about four days to carve a sini, a traditional maize and pearl millet mortar weighing several kilograms, from a chunk of African rosewood (Guibourtia coleospermma). The munhiwi, the pestle that comes with the mortar, is done in three days.

The two men’s workshop is under a tree in the Macivi settlement next to the B8 highway ten kilometres from Rundu. They have been carving mortars, pounders and cooking spoons from the wood of trees in their surroundings for 23 years. A permit from the forestry authority is required in order to transport and use African rosewood, and another permit must be obtained for selling the various utensils and souvenirs. 

21-year-old Johanna pounds maize and pearl millet into flour with the family’s old mortar and pestle. It is a job performed by women and girls.

Peter and Petrus sell the traditional maize and mahangu mortars and pounders right next to the road. Tourists and local buyers pay between 350 and 450 Namibia dollars for the hand-carved mortars. The pounders, or pestles, cost N$ 250. They charge N$ 70 for a rupandi, a wooden spoon.

After the logs and branches have been sawn to the required length with a handsaw, most of the preparatory work is done with a traditional axe – which is useful for chopping off large pieces as well as doing more detailed carving. The finished product is smoothed with an electric angle grinder. The two men also own an electric planer. With the money they make with their work they feed their large families. Each of them has seven children. They all live in modest huts built from wood and clay.   Julio, the wife of Petrus, takes care of the roadside sales. Her 21-year-old sister Johanna wants to become a nurse but still lives with her family. Like most women and girls in that part of Namibia she handles the large pestle and mortar with a flourish when she pounds maize or pearl millet into flour. The family uses a very old mortar and pestle.

Wooden mortars for pounding maize and pearl millet are the main business of Peter and Petrus.

Peter and Petrus also carve wooden mugs, elephants and other animals. They plan to make small mortars and pestles which will be easier for tourists to take home. Currently the two families also sell the orange fruits of the corky monkey-orange tree (Strychnos cocculoides), a type of poison nut tree. They collect the orange-sized fruits in the bush and ask for N$ 2 per piece, an extra income for the big households.

The B8 highway to Rundu is lined by numerous stalls which offer woodcarvings. Some of the carvers specialise on aeroplanes and helicopters, some on small cars, others on animals or utensils.

According to veterinary officials at the Mururani veterinary checkpoint, tourists may definitely take up to six carvings with them on their way south, as long as they can produce a receipt. A transport permit is required for more than six carvings.

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