How a gift from a lost tribe helped island jewellery take shape

Close up shot showing "beads" of rolled-up paper, with some of the type still visibleEye-catching paper necklaces link St Helena with a lost tribe of bush people in Botswana. They are based on a piece of jewellery that was passed to the island’s craft enterprise, SHAPE, by Hazel Wilmot, owner of the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown. Her father had been a member of an expedition in the 1960s to record the tribe’s disappearing lifestyle. The story is taken up by Hazel’s sister.

map showing Okavango Delta and St Helena, with pictures embeddedCLICK THE MAP for more pictures

 by DAPHNE WILMOT

A couple of years ago, my brother and I attended the funeral of one of the last of the River Bushmen to roam and live a nomadic life in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

1960s photo shows two men standing in dug-out canoe

river bushmen of the Okavango Delta: 1960s photograph. Click the pic for more

Their existence was well documented by Mr Clive Cowley, in a book recording his search for the remnants of this dying-out tribe.

The man who had died was well known for being the head of his village, deep in the Okavango, where very few foreigners ever went.

It was a sombre affair at the grave side, but the wake was well attended by many friends and long-lost relatives arriving from across the width of Botswana.

The only access was by dug-out canoes, or mokoros, as we call them. Gliding through the crystal clear channels of the meandering waterways, these few villagers gathered honey and wild dates from the palm fringed islands and fished with home-made nets. They lived a peaceful life, living in harmony with ways of nature that sustained their very existence.

Detail of a 1960s newspaper article on the "fabled tribe" of river bushmen

1960s newspaper cutting

At the funeral, I greeted many familiar faces and offered our condolences. During lunch, an elderly lady came up to me and presented a gift of a paper bead necklace. I was intrigued at the beauty and simplicity of the making of it.

She had cut strips of the Ngami Times newspaper (our local weekly newspaper) and rolled them to perfection, glueing them to make a final ball with a clear sealant. I thanked her and told her I would treasure it always.

Knowing that Hazel, my sister on St Helena island, was always looking for ways of helping others with little home industries, I packed this necklace and took it with me to St Helena, for her to give to SHAPE.

I am happy to see that they have perfected the technique, and that today they sell many beautiful necklaces, bracelets and trinkets of all sizes, colours and shapes.

So, the team at SHAPE had been inspired by the gift from Hazel and Daphne, but that was only the start, as LOLLY YOUNG explains.

A group of people sitting round a bowl full of paper for rolling

SHAPE staff and members at their base in Sandy Bay

We had the sample, but Woody (a member of the team) figured out how to make the beads. He cut a large paper triangle and rolled the beads very finely along a toothpick.

Ashley George became the main bead roller – very fast and efficient. Wendy Anthony, who is blind, threads the paper beads with other donated beads and makes the jewellery.

Wendy does the making at home. She also sells at Reading Sports (the biggest annual UK gathering of St Helenians) as a little sideline.

We use any paper. We started using TV guides, because of the colours, such as yellow and pink. Now we re-use glossy wrapping paper, and we are making the beads much smaller for a more sophisticated look.

And Daphne Wilmot has a message to pass on to readers:

By buying one of SHAPE’s necklaces, you will be supporting a whole industry – and helping others with special needs to help themselves.

  • Lolly’s use of Woody’s nickname alone is in keeping with a strong cultural tradition on St Helena. Everyone has a conventional name, but they don’t necessarily have much use for it. Perhaps one day, someone will research the stories behind the names, which are often passed down within families. 

LINKS:
SHAPE:  St Helena Active Participation in Enterprise
SHAPE on Facebook
IN GOOD SHAPE – feature

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