Voices of the Bushmen Exhibition

As part of AiM's focus on the Bushmen of Southern Africa, and to complement the screenings of Bushmen documentaries on Sat 1 Nov at 6.00pm, we are exhibiting a collection of Bushmen art work and jewellery in the Filmhouse café for the duration of the festival. All the work is for sale and proceeds go directly back to the communities who produced the work; please enquire at the Filmhouse box office or ask an AiM staff member.

The Bushmen often appear to be of the African bush. They seem to be an organic part of the landscape. It is therefore no surprise that their art and jewellery is also of the bush and reflects their traditional way of life, their stories and their legends.

For centuries, Bushmen have adorned themselves with beads. Brightly coloured glass beads, perhaps now more commonly associated with South Africa, were traditionally trade beads and are still widely worn by Bushman women. However, it is with ostrich egg shell beads that the Bushmen will always be associated.


Each individual bead is fashioned by hand from ostrich egg shell. The ostrich egg shell is broken into small pieces, then further broken and chipped into a disc shape using the teeth to bite off pieces of the shell, shaping it into its final form. Then using a bow and arrow as a drill, the central hole is drilled through the shell, creating the bead. The beads can be further smoothed by rubbing them against a skin apron. The dark beads are produced by frying the beads in oil over a fire. The designs are often dependency on the community and the traditions of the community. Each bead is therefore unique; as is each piece of jewellery. Ostrich shell bead work is therefore becoming scarce and highly prized. The pieces in this exhibition are made by a number of Bushman communities in Namibia.

The lino prints are made by the Bushmen in the Ekoka area in the far North-central area of Namibia, through a community-based enterprise, Onankali Omahangu Paper Project. The enterprise produces handmade paper, made from the stalks and leaves of mahangu, a type of pearl millet, onto which pictures are printed. The lino prints depict the stories, animals, birds, plants, landscapes and rock art of traditional Bushmen hunting, gathering and healing, showing their knowledge and love of the Kalahari.


The bead pictures are from the Omaheke region in the mid-north east of Namibia, close to the border with Botswana. This is a new enterprise supporting the Bushmen communities in the resettlement camps where the provision of employment and income has been especially needed.

All the community-based enterprises have been created in direct response to the Bushmen asking for help, with the on-going support of Mud Hut Trading, a Fair Trade organisation working throughout Namibia to support indigenous crafts and sustainable incomes.

Thanks to Moragh Reid, the Director of Positive Help, for organising the exhibition.

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