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From the small village of Gunotsoga in the eastern panhandle of the Okavango district hails Emafa William, a self-taught sculptor who has turned his passion of carving into a career.
William has always loved art from a very tender age where he used to draw beautiful diagrams and made paintings during his primary and junior school days. He now owns a craft shop in Maun situated at the Nhabe Museum where his products are displayed for sale.
The artist began his carving journey in 2012 when he worked at one of the local safari companies where he realised that tourists had so much affection for wood sculptures. The discovery gave him an idea to actually start a business of making and selling sculptures while still working for the same company.
It was until 2015 when he then decided to retire from his job to focus on his business which make up a major part of the local cultural heritage and tourists attraction. The determined William then opened the shop which has been operating since.
The 39-year-old creates wood art works from dried Mophane branches and Pterocarpus angolensis (Mukwa) which are commonly found in Chobe and his native district.
He carves wooden spoons, traditional bowls, small decoration canoes, African birds and other wild animals.
Furthermore, William also does more creations that he makes using elephant dung. The elephant dung creations were first introduced to him by a co-worker in the year 2015 when he left his job to focus on carving.
“Undeniably, elephant dung makes for an abundant source of fibrous cellulose material which can be processed to double up as paper pulp and we make different sorts of things using the recycled paper,” William told The Weekender.
William makes paper bags, photo albums, books and coal. “A single ball of coal we make can last up to 30 minutes” he said. In addition, he does canvas paintings and also does letter carving for boards used in safari camps to give them the traditional look.
William revealed that his passion for carving has taken him places both locally and internationally. He added that he also gets a lot of positive feedback from his customers something which he says makes work so easy and fun. “Local safari companies also support us by bringing tourists to my shop for viewing and also purchase the products,” he noted.
His work has not gone unnoticed as in 2018 he topped the Ngamiland region during the presidential competitions and then scooped the 2nd position at the nationals. He also had some of his beautiful pieces displayed at a symposium in Austria at the International World Wood Day. Furthermore, he was given the opportunity to represent Botswana at the World Youth Forum in Egypt in year 2020.
William highlighted the challenges they face, among them the lack of recognition as compared to other artists in the country. He added that even during competitions, the prizes given to other artists are higher than those awarded to wood carvers.
Besides recognition, he also revealed that they are sometimes faced with the scarcity of suitable dried wood they need for carving.
However, he said the challenges have not discouraged him from working passionately, adding that his dream is to grow his business and even employ more young Batswana who have the same passion to also grow in their careers.