Ofentse Kelapile is a 30 years old mother of 2, living in Maun. Ofentse teaches in a primary school nearby but her real passion is the making of traditional clay artefacts. I stand with her in a small, hot brick room on her property, as she describes the various bowls and rocks scattered on the only table. A shaft of dusty light is entering through a hole in the wall. This is her workshop and, after hours, she spends her time in here exercising age-old skills to produce clay bowls, vases, beads and ornaments. She shows how the clay she uses from the earth is mixed, pushed, smoothed and moulded into incredible things, just the same way that our forefathers and mothers did it.
She tells me how she does it: ‘I make clay pots and beads in the traditional way here in my workshop. The things I make have so many uses and there is a lot of history with them as they have been made by our great great-great grandmothers. The pots can be used as a fridge because water becomes cold in them. Also, they can store traditional beer and sour milk.
I learned this trade when I applied to the Poverty Education Program in 2013. Then in 2017 they called me up and invited me to Gaborone. I was the only person from Maun to be on the programme.
I will show you what I learned and what I do now here… this is ‘letsoko’ which is the clay that makes the brown-coloured clay look more orange. This is ‘letsopa’ clay that has to be crushed by a hammer and then made fine in this wooden pot. I then sieve the fine clay through netting so I have the dust. You can see if I shake it and mix this with soil from the termite mound, which is ‘moraga’, then after leaving it for a day, it becomes soft.
I can then mould this combined clay into pots and containers for the shape. You start from the bottom and work your way up. One day I will have a potters wheel and then I can make more. But for now, I can make two small pots in one evening. I then take a stone called ‘karitela’ and for a long time I go over and around the clay to make it smooth. If it starts to become too hard too quickly you can add a little water.
The things I make have so many uses and there is a lot of history with them as they have been made by our great great-great grandmothers.
After putting the finished smooth pot in the ground with cow dung all around it - so that it does not crack, you then cover the hole with earth and wait. Lastly, you add fire on top, which acts as an oven to make the clay hard.
Last year, I wasn’t working so I made clay items every day. But they are harder to sell because they are more expensive than plastic. These things take time to make.’
She was with her beautiful daughter Racheal Kelapile and I can’t help hoping that her mothers passion and evident teaching skills will be passed down to this generation.
Ofentse teaches in a primary school nearby but her real passion is the making of traditional clay artefacts.