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Behind The Design • The Carved Kuba Pot
THE JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF MANTAPALA
The Design Journey Of A Pot!
What it took to make this one product.
This journey began in 2021, at the height of Covid, as we went on a bit of an adventure. Not your usual road trip, mind you, but a journey to Mantapala, a refugee settlement on the northern edge of Zambia, near the Congo border. Getting there was a ride in itself – imagine bumpy dirt roads, river crossings, and an hour of hardcore off-roading. We are still not sure where we were on the map!
Mantapala is tucked away in heavy forest, it relies on solar power and whatever the land offers. Forget grocery stores; they depend on aid and farming for survival. It's a harsh reality.
We arrived at the settlement as a team of two, Tribal Textiles designer Jen and Good Neighbours Zambia project manager Olipha. Only after ticking all the boxes of course! … meeting with community leaders, shaking hands with the settlement president, and checking in with the refugee officer.
Photographed Above: The long hour-long dirt road to Mantapala.
Photographed Above: Tribal Textiles, Good Neighbours & UNHCR Employees at the first in-person meeting regarding the project.
Here we began the hard work, getting the project started! Trying to communicate with 17,000 residents? A logistical nightmare! Fortunately for us, after gathering an initial group of 10 creatives, our project turned heads in the settlement as passersby, intrigued by our roadside creative hub, would end up joining in with our project and growing our group to 50 people by the end of the year.
Photographed Above: The initial group of 10 creatives
Photographed Above: First weaving technique experiments
Inspired by one of the first artefacts to come out of Africa and enter the curio cabinets of kings and nobles, we turned to Kuba cloth for our inspiration. This is a cloth that is hand woven from the raffia palm leaf, the palm leaf is stripped and dried, then hand woven and embroidered in the beautiful pieces photographed below. We were drawn to its graphic angular shapes. Historically if the embroidered shapes were admired the pattern would be named after the women who embroidered them. This was our starting point.
Photographed Above: Our design inspiration.
There were several pivotal moments when it came to creating our final design. From the beginning, we realised that we would have to source from the land, and luckily enough - there were a lot of palms! We began our journey of weaving with a couple of people in the group whose skills were shared with others.
After perfecting our weaving skills, one day Suze - one of our vibrant group members came in with some colourful palm leaves! She had recognised some plants that her mother used to create natural dyes, and before we knew it, our little makeshift workshop was sprinkled with colourful palm leaves.
Then comes the multicoloured weaving! This was just by chance, we spotted someone having a bit of fun mixing all the colours - boy did it look pretty! We simply had to use that in a design.
We were fortunate enough to have a group of carvers who would make the base of our pots by hand, gathering fallen branches from around the settlement (It was in a rather large forest area after all!) and using small axes to chop them into shape. We still can’t believe that no machinery is used to make the carving!
So, how were we going to join everything together? That one was easy… fishing wire of course!
Photographed Above: Suze and her magical dye plants in hand!
Photographed Above: A golden bunch of naturally dyed palm leaves
Photographed Above: The playful colour mixing
Photographed Above: Joining it together with fishing string!
- The Product
Ta Da! We finally had our finished product, and we certainly ended up working as an amazing dynamic team, each person playing an integral part. The group has since made hundreds of these pots and it’s quite mind-blowing to think of the journey this took from start to finish. The minds that the idea passed through, as well as the hands, to create this design.
We were lucky enough to meet such a wonderful group of enthusiastic creatives and help them save up money in a place where quite literally there is no way to earn.
In 2022 our group repatriated back to The Democratic Republic of Congo, not only taking with them new skills, but new friendships too. We wish them all the best on their journey home and we will never forget our journey to meet them.