ON COLLISION COURSE WITH CULTURE

By Dorcas Mhungu
February 2012
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Many people aspire to get white collar jobs when they finish training in various disciplines and very few entertain or dream of earning a living out of craftsmanship.

Even for Robert Max Hidishange, ending up as a fashion jeweller was accidental but it turned out to be an accident that did not leave him physically bruised but financially, materially and socially enriched in a trade that is generally associated with women.

Twenty eight-year old Hidishange recounts how after completing his matric, he was fortunate to get employment in Windhoek. However, he would later abandon his job to pursue a burning desire to study visual arts but that pursuit was much to the disappointment of most family members, especially his mother.

Hidishange narrates how he decided to venture into the world of visual arts to the chagrin of his Christian mother who holds strong cultural beliefs that the beads and ostrich shells he uses in making fashion jewellery that puts bread on his table is associated with witchcraft.

“In the Oshiwambo culture, you cannot steal the eggs of an ostrich and touching onjoka (sea shells) brings bad luck. But, these are the materials that have put food on my table and made me popular with tourists and locals,” he says.

After completing his diploma at the Namibia College of Visual Arts in 2005, Hidishange attended a five-week course in jewellery making offered by a Finnish lady called Sanna. At the end of the course, she held an exhibition that saw Hidishange emerge a top seller, unravelling and unleashing an underlying current of a talent that marked the beginning of his success story.

The College of Arts offered him a teaching position, becoming the first student to be offered a teaching position at the college and the offer, besides being made on merit, was intended to motivate other students to take visual arts seriously.

Hidishange later met Attila Giersch; a goldsmith who he describes as his mentor.

“And he taught me the secrets and techniques of making jewellery,” he says with pride and passion.

He now rents Giersch’s workshop to make necklaces, pendants and earrings liked by many tourists. He says although local people know his products, it is sad that they do not know him in flesh. He is a member of the Pambili Young Designers.

He makes beautiful jewellery from nature’s haven that include seeds from edible and inedible wild fruits that he polishes and colours beautifully and decorate them with ostrich egg shells, leather, wood, copper and aluminium.

“Most of the materials like aluminium and copper, I buy from the scrap yards,” Hidishange explains adding,

“My dream is to become a qualified goldsmith but it is expensive to become one. I am grateful that I earn an honest living out of the work of my own hands unlike many youth members out there who want to get rich quick by doing drugs and other criminal activities. My message to the youth is there is a chance to make money out of our own initiatives instead of looking up to the Government all the time. For myself, I thank Attila for grooming me.”

In 1989, Hidishange started primary education at Elombe Primary in Elombe village and thereafter enrolled at Oshela Secondary School for Grade 11 and 12. It was after completing secondary education that Hidishange decided to enrol at the College of Arts to study visual arts.

“There was no jewellery training at the college that time when I did my diploma. My Christian mother didn’t allow me to touch beads,” reminisces Hidishange on how he defied all odds to nurture his creative talent and use his nimble fingers to etch a living out of craftsmanship. The soft-spoken jeweller is disappointed that the colour of his skin retards his prosperity.

“It is very difficult to expand my business as people do not take young black entrepreneurs seriously. I do not know people who can fund my business or help me exhibit overseas where I can get more recognition and exposure,” he laments.

Hidishange’s mentor, Giersch is a qualified goldsmith and director of Pambili Young Designers, a non-profit non-governmental organisation, representing and creating a platform for 17 Namibian jewellery, fashion and accessories producers. Its members sell their crafts and clothing through a retail shop.

The organisation gives members product exposure to international markets by participating at expos and fares, Giersch says. The organisation, which is also a member of Team Namibia, has exhibited at a number of international platforms that include Berlin, Germany in 2010 as well as in Helsinki, Finland in both 2006 and 2007. Last year, it participated at the Angola Fashion Business expo and South Africa’s Arise Africa.

Of his relation with Hidishange, Giersch says, “Robert worked for me as an intern. He has a lot of potential.” Giersch trained with Adrian and Meyer and worked for four years before he decided to row his own boat in 2003 and in 2007, he started his own brand of jewellery called Tameka. Tameka; an Oshiwambo name that means “beginning”, was the first Namibian producer of fashion jewellery. PF