Popular for her illustrious work in visual arts both locally and internationally, Thitaku Maphaha of Botswana Quality Baskets in Matlapana has introduced yet another concept to her line of work.
This time she has added a new dimension to her style of weaving by mixing the usual material with German cloth commonly known as ‘leteisi,’ and the new style has attracted a lot of attention from tourists visiting the Okavango Delta.
Operating from her house located just outside Maun along the Francistown-Maun road, Botswana Quality Basket offers the finest selection of high-quality, locally-made grass-woven baskets.
In an interview, Maphaha said she has found a niche in the basket weaving market which was profitable, noting that she was able to feed and take care of her family.
The talented woman, who is a devoted Christian and a master weaver, explained that she came up with the idea to add value to her works.
She explained that each basket was a unique creation that was not repeated, and that the complex and intricate patterns were done without any planning or mathematical calculations.
“All my patterns come as a vision or a dream which I always follow and come up with exactly what was displayed in my vision,” she said, adding that she has made a living through making and selling baskets within and outside the country.
“I have also participated at major exhibitions locally and abroad, winning prizes for my work,” she said, adding that weaving needs patience, determination and commitment in order to produce quality products.
The art of basket weaving is a renowned tradition for most tribes in Ngamiland District and it has put Botswana on the map as a pioneering basket weaving nation in the Southern African region.
Originally, the baskets were made to store food and drink, but today, baskets are also made for decoration purposes and to give weavers the much needed income to support their families.
Baskets are produced in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and the patterning of the various constructional elements could be manipulated in order to produce, not only useful containers, but also objects that are aesthetically pleasing.
Smooth, rounded lines and graceful reinforcement ribs, for example, can be seen in many surviving examples of Ngamiland basketry.
Maphaha explained that her company has a good outsourcing network throughout the district, noting that the production was well organised in weaving villages.
She said she buys from other women to increase her products and to sell to her customers most of whom were tourists.
Her company is one of the largest producers of baskets in Botswana. Maphaha added that weaving was a God given gift as she learnt it from her mother when she was a young girl.
“I used to stay around my mother who was a popular weaver of baskets in the dusty village of Etsha,” she reminisced.
She also recalled producing her first basket at the age of eight and selling the piece of work for P1.50.
Since her work was stunning and intricately designed, in 1994 she was selected to compete at an art exhibition in Gaborone where she became the overall winner.
She noted that her work was sent to America for another exhibition and customers there insisted to meet the weaver, and that was how she penetrated the international market for the first time.
She has had the opportunity to exhibit in several countries such as Germany, South Africa, Swaziland and the United States of America.
“I also transfer my weaving skills to any interested individuals so that our tradition lives on,” she added.
Before she started her own business, Maphaha ran a rural development project in the district with Botswana Christian Council (BCC) where they organised seminars to teach more women basic weaving skills.
She said the project was a success with more women now producing a wide range of traditional and innovative crafts.
She prides herself in playing a role in the establishment of Shorobe Basketry and reviving Ngwao Boswa group in Gumare, and Itsoseng Group for which she managed to build a shelter at Nzamasera.
Maphaha is currently planning to open a cultural village where she will display all kinds of artifacts to revive the Ngamiland culture of weaving.
She said the facility would offer different types of traditional food, resting rooms and an information centre where people could do their research.
She urged women to reduce dependency on men and government assistance, adding that they should explore their potential and make a living out of available opportunities that come their way.
She said they should not do business for the love of money because it would collapse, but rather that people should be driven by passion.