Making Things from Animals: Leather Technologies of the Kalahari

By Chris Wingfield, Maitseo Bolaane, and Novelette Aldoni-Stewart | 10 November 2020

Until the nineteenth century, nearly all forms of clothing used across the Kalahari were derived from animals. Precolonial trade in leather linked the Kalahari with communities across southern Africa, and early colonial traders exported furs from the Kalahari around the world. While most people today dress in imported European style clothing, artisanal leather workers produce some leather artefacts for sale to tourists, but hides increasingly come from domestic animals and are prepared in ways that do not retain any fur.  

Wildlife conservation measures, environmental change and the relocation of communities means that access to wild resources is now extremely restricted for small-scale craft producers. Increasingly, school-educated young people are pursuing alternative forms of income, and the generation of leather workers familiar with the processing and use of wild leather is increasingly unable to pass their knowledge on to younger generations. The imminent opening of a massive ‘leather park’ at Lobatse in southeast Botswana has the potential to significantly disrupt small-scale leather production and related forms of material knowledge.  

 

This project will work with young people from remote communities studying at the University of Botswana to document the techniques and materials used by leather workers from their communities. This will create an enduring record of forms of knowledge that have developed through close engagements with particular environments over time. This will feed into museum conservation practices, but also provide a basis from which archaeologists, historians and geographers can begin to understand how these practices have changed across space and time. 

 

PI:
Chris Wingfield, Associate Professor, Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas, University of East Anglia 

Collaborators:
Maitseo Bolaane, Associate Professor, University of Botswana
Novelette Aldoni-Stewart, PhD Candidate, University of East Anglia 

Location of Research:
Botswana— NgamilandGhanziChobe, KgalagadiKweneng districts
South Africa—
Kuruman

 

Top Banner Image: Photograph showing people filling ostrich eggshells to be carried in leather bags, wearing leather clothing at Kikao Pan, central Kalahari, c.1930. (Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge. P.7268.ACH1 – Photographer – J.W. Mogg