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Basket Beading by Nomathemba Mditshwa
12 December 2009
The demonstration at the Country Craft Market of 12 November 2009, highlights a number of factors that continue to preserve and develop African culture in South Africa. Nomathemba Mditshwa will not just be demonstrating her craft of decorating woven baskets with typical African beading, but will also show how lines of family and culture carry these traditions on to new generations.
While growing up in East London's Ndevana Township, Nomathemba learned both the cultural and technical aspects of her craft from her mother. As soon as she had completed her matric, she continued her studies, in business management, at a college in East London.
This equipped her to face the world of commerce and she headed for Cape Town to start her own business.
But the ties to her family and especially her mother were far from broken. They just became stretched across the breadth of the Eastern and Western Cape provinces. To decorate baskets, one firstly needs baskets and these are supplied by her mother and two friends who are still resident in East London
Nomathemba visits home whenever needed, to collect a new load of Mother's baskets. In themselves, they are fine works of craft, being decorative and beautifully made. Using dark grass and reeds split into fine strips, her mother weaves intricate patterns that give Nomathemba an excellent basis for her task of adding further embellishment.
And as if the weaving is not time-consuming enough, the elegant and equally intricate beading work that traditionally is done using tiny beads, adds about one more day per basket to the production time of these cultural masterpieces. Yet the extra effort is justified, as the results are elegant and versatile baskets that have a million uses from the totally practical to the totally decorative.
But it in not just the uses that reach into the high numbers, for a quick calculation indicates that more that ten thousand beads need to be strung to decorate just one average sized basket. The larger baskets probably contain more that double this number of tiny beads. The seemingly impossible task of stringing this many beads is made possible through the use of a type of fishing technique, running a long needle through a heap of beads. This hooks beads onto the needle and speeds up the process significantly. However, a novice will soon discover this seemingly simple technique is much less successful in less adept hands.
Nomathemba's younger sister Zodwa, is now part of the Cape Town branch of the business and keeps pace, bead by bead, with Nomathemba. Together they tirelessly produce basket after basket. Nomathemba explains that their colourful additions to the baskets are not haphazard, but are based on the traditional colours of Southern African tribes. They use gold, black and brown to reflect Xhosa culture, incorporate blue to capture the cultural identity of the Zulus, and make orange dominated designs that are reminiscent of the Ndebele people's colour preferences.
Such patience and technique as they display, are an essential part of producing truly traditional craft works, that date from times when the haste of modern life was not a dominating factor. There simply are no short cuts to their craft. Visitors to the Country Craft Market on 12 December 2009 will be treated to a demonstration of craft and endurance by Nomathemba, and will find themselves enthralled with both the process and the results.
This demonstration will make a fine introduction to the further Christmas surprises planned for following the markets of 16 and 19 December.
Last Updated 02 November 2017 13:32