Making toy cattle out of clay is a stage most African boys have to go through and it is one of the most fulfilling experiences from childhood. Now that technology and digital games have tampered with most traditions, Mmegi Staff Writer, MOMPATI TLHANKANE recently had a chance to step back into his past by carving childhood memories on a ceramic sculpture in Sochi, Russia
Growing up in a village where herding flocks was an obligation, learning how to make toy cattle out of clay was a bonus craft we learnt from our older brothers. Our family’s flock would disappear while we were busy moulding our own. While it always meant trouble, we never stopped until we came of age.
An Art Master Class session was held at the ongoing 19th World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi, Russia and I could not help but take part. I have not smoothed my hands in clay in years and I was curious to see if I still retained the skills.
When I arrived at the Arts Centre in Sochi I was simply inspired to see a beautiful ceramic sculpture that had seemingly amassed all the creativity from 150 countries taking part at the festival. The weight was on me to leave something there that would represent Botswana. I am not an artist myself but in the absence of one, I had to try my best.
As other youthful participants from all over the world had moulded their castles and traditions on the sculpture, I had to leave something symbolic and recognisable as Botswana.
Immediately the Three Chiefs Monument at the CBD in Gaborone came to mind and it was time I teleported the monument to Russia.
The instructor gave me a few instructions and I was good to go. I simply took my smartphone and searched the picture for guidance as my hands effortlessly formed Khama III’s head.
I have to say though that creating a face that small is quite a challenge but in the end, I had to come up with something. I moulded him exactly as the artists have done at the CBD with his hat in his right hand and jacket on the other. I swiftly moved to Sebele I and he was much easier now that the boyhood instinct of mud-moulding had kicked in.
I wanted to tell our history to the world by moulding the Three Chiefs who famously set in motion events that would eventually lead to Botswana’s independence from Great Britain.
As I was busy trying to perfect the likeness of the CBD monument, cameras were suddenly all about flashing at me and I for a little while, felt like a famous visual artist.
While I was busy doing my thing, I heard a recognisable language from behind as someone shouted: “Wena o tswa Botswana leha e bile go ntse go tweng”.
Confused and excited to hear my language spoken out loud for the first time in the four days or so I have been in Russia, I gladly answered in the affirmative. The man introduced himself as Mbaki Swift Mpoloka from Marapong in Botswana. As the conversation flowed, I realised that he knows the same people I know. He soon left me to continue my work and I was more inspired than ever.
However, I was moving along at a snail’s pace, which made me realise that the passage of time had eroded my skills. Back then, I could finish moulding 100 herd of cattle in a short period including the rest of the cattle post and the huts. I wrapped up with Bathoen I and now I had to create a support for them to settle on. I completed the exercise by carving their names so that whoever comes to Sochi in the years to come will readily recognise the Three Chiefs. In the end the instructor, Chubenko Julia asked what my small sculpture meant ,and I was proud to take her back to the pre-independence period of the late 1800s.
As Julia explained, the master class was held to show the world’s beliefs, customs, history and tradition.
“It is meant to show the collaboration between all people. This is how we create links between people who do not know each other. We establish the exchange between different people and every participant is not only representing his country and national idea, but they have a chance to fulfil their dreams,” she said.
Julia added that it was decided to give all participants at the festival a chance to express themselves because through participation in the master class, they all take responsibility in what is going on in the whole world.
“We chose clay because it is easy to work with for someone who is new to ceramics. There will be three art objects in total and after the festival, photos will be taken and the whole monument will be turned into three dimensional graphics to provide a good memory of the festival.”
So there in Sochi a little memento of Botswana will remain courtesy of Yours Truly.