There is lots of old, no longer functional PVC piping all over Opuwo and throughout Namibia. Normally, this old piping either remains in the ground as an eyesore, or ends up being burned on the garbage heap releasing toxins into the surrounding environment.
However, the members of Opuwo Beads and Seeds have found that this PVC makes an extraordinary material for carving bracelets based on traditional Ovahimba carving practices.
A simple work space and a basic set of tools and materials is all a carver needs to turn ordinary PVC into a work of African art.
After the pipe has been removed from the ground it is lightly washed, sectioned into desired work lengths, and cut in strips lengthwise.
As much pipe as possible will be sectioned into strips in this manner.
Just after being cut the varying strips are still rough and uneven.
The rough strips of pipe are smoothed and evened with a specialized knife blade.
The strips of piping must be completely evened before carving begins.
The artisan lightly sketches a rough pattern with pencil before carving the strip.
The carvers use a flap of tire rubber and folded cloth on their knee as a work surface. This arrangement protects them from getting hurt, but also allows for a great deal of precision and control.
Every artisan uses their own set of customized tools.
Each bracelet is completely unique and every artisan has their own styles and patterns.
After the carving is done there are still a few more steps before the piece is finished.
The edges are rounded and smoothed with a file.
The backside is cleaned again and smoothed further.
The finished strip is then held over hot coals.
As it starts to become maleable the top side of the strip is also heated.
The strip begins curving into the shape of a bracelet on its own as the heat is applied.
When the strip has been heated to the right degree of malleability it is taken from the hot coals and quickly wrapped around another bracelet, or a properly sized branch or can.
In a matter of moments the strip hardens into the familiar form of a bracelet. The only thing left to do at this point is give the bracelets one final wash with soap and water.