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Shopping in Windhoek:

Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia, with approximately 250 000 people staying in Windhoek. Windhoek is about ½ hours drive from the Windhoek International Airport and 1 ½ hours drive from Kowas (140 km). Please take note that no foreign currency is allowed for payment when making purchases in Namibia. Namibian dollar or South-African rand is acceptable.

When foreign currency to be exchanged for local currency, you need proof of identity (passport).

When shopping in Windhoek, you will be exposed to mostly African crafts from either the informal street vendors or the craft centre. It is part of the African tradition to "bargain" for the prices ONLY AT THE INFORMAL STREET VENDORS when making purchases. The informal street vendors do not accept credit card payments, only Namibian dollar cash (or South-African rand) as a method of payment.

The most extensive craft outlet in Namibia is the Namibia Crafts Centre in the Old Breweries Building in Tal Street, a one-stop facility where every conceivable kind of craft produced in the country can be found - from basketry, pottery, woodcarvings and leather work, to jewellery and needlework, and especially highly artistic needlework. The Centre is managed by the Rössing Foundation, an organisation which promotes rural development and training programmes throughout Namibia.

A walk around the museum-like interior of Bushman Art in Windhoek will give visitors a quick but insightful look into the many divergent traditional cultures of the Namibian people. Displayed in glass-fronted cabinets, the collection consists of the jewellery, head-dresses, aprons, skirts, musical instruments, calabashes, baskets, bowls and pots, knives, bows and arrows and other weapons of the Himba, Bushmen, Caprivians, Kavangos and Owambos.

Especially interesting are the initiation masks and costumes of the different Caprivian tribes. The costumes of the Tchokwe, which originated in the Congo where they were made from baobab roots, are nowadays usually made from hessian, and sometimes even plastic.

The Craft Centre, curio shops and jeweler stores (amongst other shops, such as groceries stores, pharmacies, clothes shops) do accept credit card payments.

In recent years the production of art and crafts in Namibia's rural areas has become a matter of economic and cultural survival, in addition to being a creative outlet on the part of the artists and craftspeople.

Some Associations exists which promotes rural development and training programmes throughout Namibia, which have done much to assist communities in the production and marketing of their crafts. Baskets, pottery, beadwork and jewellery are not only an integral part of village life, but are beginning to find their way into art galleries and specialist craft shops, as increasing numbers of rural artists and craftspeople become aware of the income-generating potential of the work they produce.

In earlier times functional items for domestic use were made according to traditional designs and forms from materials that were locally available. Today rural communities are using factory-made plastic buckets, ready-made ornaments, iron pots and plastic beads, all of which have influenced the current production of art and crafts.

A basket-making tradition has survived in the northern regions of Owambo, Kavango and Caprivi, and to a lesser extent in Kaokoland. Baskets are still used by women in the mahangu (type of corn) fields for harvesting and winnowing their grain, and in homesteads for storing it. They are also ideal containers for transporting goods when on foot. The more versatile bowl-shaped basket is most sought after by the urban market.

Although baskets vary from region to region, they are generally made from the leaves of the makalani palm (type of palm), Hyphaene petersiana, using the coil technique. Shades of brown, purple and yellow are obtained by boiling the leaves, bark and roots of various shrubs and trees with the strands of prepared palm leaves. Basket-making is a slow process that requires many years of practice. The best baskets are usually made by older women. A medium to large basket can take as long as four weeks to complete. Most baskets are produced in the four Owambo regions, where basket-makers do not use an awl, but a needle with a large eye, through which they thread strips of palm leaf. Baskets made in the Kavango tend to be larger, and those in Caprivi generally have finer coils. Decoration is achieved by weaving across two rows with an overstitch.

Himba baskets are used to store milk or make fat. Shapes vary from a bottle with a neck and narrow mouth to a deep pail. Most have a leather handle with iron beaded decoration so that they can be hung in the ondjowo (dwelling). Bowl-shaped baskets are also made and used for winnowing the grass seeds collected from ant's nests.

Increasing numbers of women are becoming aware of the commercial viability of their handwork outside the villages. Besides preserving traditional skills, the commercialisation of baskets can generate a cash income for the women who make them.

Over the past six years the revival of inherent traditional skills, seemingly rendered redundant by modern times, and the acquisition of new skills in marketing and sales, have enabled women in the Caprivi to create a vibrant and successful craft industry. The baskets with their unique Caprivi patterns and shapes, and the lengthy process undertaken to create them, is both colourful and poetic.

Typical Namibian curios are painted ostrich eggshells, candles, jewellery and woodcarvings, Himba dolls, leather skirts and head-dresses, musical instruments such as thumb pianos and drums from Caprivi, wooden combs from Kavango and Caprivi, pounding mallets from Owambo, and tortoise-shell perfume boxes and beaded bags and jewellery made by the Bushmen.

"Modern" curios are bracelets made by the Himba from PVC pipes, carved and rubbed with ochre to bring out the pattern. Other popular modern curios are wire bicycles, motorcars, aeroplanes and boats, especially when they have wheels and a steering handle. A recent development is colourful handmade and hand-painted candles that are made in Mariental under the brand name Kalahari Candles. Crafts and curios from other African countries, especially from Zambia and Zimbabwe, are also sold at some outlets. Do not take it for granted that all curios which you purchase in Namibia, is made in Namibia. Ask the seller about the country of manufacturing.

 

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