Namibian entrepreneur reaps gain from modernized traditional pottery-making art

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Pottery
traditional pottery-making art

A young Namibian woman is adept at using modern machinery to transform the century-old practice of pottery-making while reaping economic benefits through her venture, Oshana Ceramic Manufacturing.

At Iindjinda village in the Oshana region in the northern part of Namibia, from her workshop, Jacobina Nangula molded polymer clay into a ceramic bowl. She is counting down to her 4,000th ceramic product made through a process of hardening it in a machine.

What is different is the use of items to produce the items.

“I used smoother polymer clay instead of the clay sand sourced from nearby lakes. I do not use bones but lend on a modernized production process of using a machine to strengthen the products, which are more effective and efficient than old ways of using dry cow dung,” she said.

In the northern part of Namibia, pottery is typically an art undertaken by women to create clay pots from clay sand collected from nearby lakes or rivers. The clay and products are then shaped with discarded cattle bones and hardened by burning them in cow dung charcoal overnight.

Established in November 2017, the venture produces ceramic products in traditional and modern forms, including bowls, pots, cups, and souvenirs.

“Ironically, I have never made clay pots in a traditional setting, but in the past observed how elderly women made them which sparked my interest. Later, I enrolled at art school to know better,” she said.

After obtaining qualifications in ceramics and pottery in 2016 from the College of Arts, a local arts education institution in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, she took the bold step to fuse traditional knowledge and machinery of pottery-making.

“I am motivated to amplify a traditional practice once limited to a generational apprenticeship and contribute to the pottery art transformation venture. Now pottery is my lifeline,” she said.

Since its inception, she has made nearly 4,000 products sold to locals and tourists. “Our pottery art products are more profitable than traditional handmade products,” she said.

In addition, it generated more income from bulk orders of important events such as weddings and traditional gatherings. The venture has also created five jobs for other youth in a country battling high unemployment rates. Namibia’s youth unemployment rate stands at 46.1 percent, according to the latest 2018 labor force survey.

“It gives me a competitive advantage as my production process is faster and better quality. Coupled with a more defined business model, this is a viable commercial venture,” she added.

Nangula also forges partnerships and helps local women empowerment initiatives on how they can modernize and improve traditional pottery. At the same time, free skills training projects are offered, and 20 young people aged seven to 16 come to learn skills in their spare time.

“The aim is to carve and groom talent, by extension, ensure the longevity of the art of pottery-making. Above all, to create job opportunities,” said Nangula.

Meanwhile, to improve her financial acumen, she participated in workshops geared toward empowering entrepreneurs in bookkeeping, marketing, and business management to build on support from the Namibian government through the Regional Council to build a structure. This year, she also emerged as a winner of the Old Mutual Sustainable, Economic, and Empowerment Drive, a local initiative looking to empower grassroots entrepreneurs.

Nangula hopes to forge partnerships to upscale the business, overcome challenges such as unaffordable industrial machinery, and have a dedicated shop in town from where to sell products. “I aim to gain more skills and source advanced machinery to increase production capacity. The vision is to grow this small space into an industrialized pottery factory in Namibia. The sky is the limit,” she said. Enditem

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