Matlapaneng Baskets & Cultural Centre
I started making baskets in Etsa 6 age five. I was doing it at home just to learn because my mother was making them also. I sold my first basket when I was eight years old for 1 pula 50 Thebe. I have learned everything from my mother, who won best weaver in Etsa award for her baskets. The prize she received was clothing, blankets and fuel. I realised this was a way for women to make a living. My mother sold her baskets to the old 'Botswana Craft' government institution, which is now closed. From her I became more interested in weaving items and when I finished school I worked with the Botswana Christian Council to bring different women's baskets together in Etsa 6. There is no work in this area but there was a guesthouse and in 1990 we created a curio shop attached to this guesthouse, so that tourists there could buy what we made. I was 19 then.
In 1994 I submitted my baskets in the Botswana craft competition in Gaborone and I won first prize! This was an amazing opportunity for me as because it was a prestigious national competition, I was able to go to the USA representing Botswana. It was my job to show our products to the whole world during the time of the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. That is what I did. And since then I continue to do so. In 1995 because of a contacts I made, I worked with Conservation International to start the Sherobe Basket Shop with them, followed by a shop in Gumare and then one in Shakawi.
Lastly, I started this shop in Maun in 2000, but this was a Maun business, rather than a charity cooperation. I am the owner of Matlapaneng baskets and I pay women for the baskets as soon as they make them — so they have the money straight away. There is more incentive for people to make their items when they get the money when they need it. Then, when their items are sold, they get the rest of the commission.
It was my job to take our products to the whole world during the time of the Olympics in Atlanta.
For me it is very important that women make their own money and are encouraged to be independent. I have been inspired by strong women in my life and through making their own money, women can be empowered to change their lives for the better. They can look after their families. Palm trees are used to make local beer and wine, 'Mochemna', but I want to encourage people to use the leaves for better things. By just cutting the leaves for the baskets, the palm keeps growing and does not die. The leaves can then be washed and dried for making baskets and other woven items. The process is this:
- Collect the palm leaves
- Split them between the people who collected them, then cook them
- Prepare the dyes from the bark and leaves from trees such as Motswilla and the indigenous Motakola
- Wash and dry the palm leaves
- Then the basket can begin to be made — it is a very soft, yet strong material.
People don't know this but they can actually be washed with soap and dried too. Because we use these as our plates as well.
I have been inspired by strong women in my life and through making their own money, women can be empowered to change their life for the better.
There are also two main types of baskets... one for artwork - it is a thing of beauty to hang and keep forever. The other one is more for using - it can be looser weaving so it curls up at the edges to keep things inside. I sell both types of design and also other locally made items such as necklaces and palm woven pots. I would encourage everybody to buy these things. They are light and strong and useful. The whole world should be encouraged to buy Botswana baskets because the designs are unique to here. They are a natural, sustainable product and they are bringing hope to women in rural areas with no jobs. We appreciate every sale.
This shop you see has started from humble beginnings. I started by doing a signpost by the road. I remember a lady from Ghanzi was the first to stop in her car and then that day 3 or 4 people bought from me! I always told people I knew, that ‘one day I will have a shop in Matlapaneng', so then by the time I had one, many people already knew what I was doing. Mobile Safari companies came to bring their guests and helped to make this shop successful. Capricorn Safaris always brought their guests and that picked me up so much. Also then the government organisation FAP gave me a grant to help build the building we are now in.
They are a natural, sustainable product and they are bringing hope to women in rural areas with no jobs. We appreciate every sale.
But I have more plans! The next step which has already started is the 'Cultural Village', next to this shop. However I am waiting for the registration to make it a proper school. But here I give lessons on basket weaving. You can also learn about hambukushu clothes, food and lifestyle. There is a building where I help ladies who need to improve the tightness and quality of their weaving in order to sell their items. This is mostly for the younger Botswana girls and ladies who need this help.
People don't know how tricky baskets are... sometimes I start with a design in mind but then it turns into something else totally! I just have to change and go with the flow because you can't change anything once you start or undo anything, you must just keep going. It is a creative process and I can end up with something I didn't even imagine! You must just appreciate what you have done and hope that others see the beauty.
It is a creative process and I can end up with something I didn't even imagine!