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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meet David Kasama, Natural Jewellery Maker...

Necklace made from water seeds and hand painted bamboo
I met David Kasama at Silveiria House with my mother during my annual visit to Zimbabwe. He was sitting outside facing his friends, the Shona sculptors, sitting on a chair and a small table:

David prepares his products for the local market

From a distance it looked like he was working with a sewing machine, but it wasn't a sewing machine, it was a "bench grinder" which he explained is a tool used to sand/make his products:David shows his machinery

David is a natural jewellery maker. He finds seeds from indegenous trees and uses them to make his jewellery. He started jewellery making in 1980 when he was a member of a youth group managed by the Jesuit priests at Silveiria House. He says he tried many other jobs but he always returned to jewellery making which he enjoyed most of all. David uses necklaces and earings from bamboo, mopane wood (which is a hardwood), peach seeds and water seeds:

Necklace made of Bamboo and Peach seeds
He picks them after they have fallen to the ground naturally so as not to destroy the ecosystem in the environment around him:

Africa, and is more often used to make furniture and African curios, so I was suprised to see a 100% natural oil derived from this tree. As David showed me his jewellery equipment he explained that the machine was purchased for him by a visitor to Zimbabwe who lived in the United Kingdom. The visitor sent him catalog from the UK to choose the machine he needed to do his work, and he hasn't looked back since. I wondered if the benefactor knew what a difference his small gesture had made, for David lives with his wife, his mother and three of the children of his late brother. He is the breadwinner and I wondered how on earth he was managing to sustain everyone, especially after he told me about the volume of business he had lost since 2000.

Sample of "lucky bean" seeds (as we used nickname them ), which David uses to make necklaces.

I was impressed by the innovation he displayed. Due to the scarcity of hooks for his earings and necklaces, he purchases gold plated safety pins and uses his pliers to make the hooks he needs:

Gold plated safety pins he converts into earing or necklace hooks with pliers

He showed me a bottle of the Mukwa oil he uses to polish the seeds until they shine. The Mukwa is a species of indigenous trees native to southern

David shows his work in progressHe opened up a small photo album and showed us all the jewellery he had made for the USA market in the past, which he used to sell through local tourists and NGO employees from Germany, the Netherlands and USA:

David shows us his catalog

He then pointed the parking lot and told me how it used to always be full of cars. I followed his finger to an overgrown patch of land where I had parked my own car not even realizing that I had parked on the official parking lot. Since the decline of Zimbabwe's economy fewer tourists visit and small scale artisans like David are the ones being hit the hardest:

Empty parking lot on what should be a busy work week

It was quite sad to hear and again I felt terribly helpless. I told him I'd purchase a sample of his jewellery to test the market for him. I also purchased a necklace for myself & my Mom. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on his work, and if you'd like to see more just met me know. What so sad about this situation is that here is a low income entrepreneur, father to his deceased brother's 3 children, caretaker of his ageing mother and family man in his own right, trying to make a decent living honestly. The least we can do is provide a stepping stone for home to continue his work.

I'll be uploading David's jewllery to our new website when it is up and running early this year. In the meantime, take a look and add your comments good or bad and if you want to purchase any of it just let me know. I'd particularly like to hear design ideas I can take back to David to help him make his products more marketable overseas. I'll be visiting Zimbabwe again soon and I want to be able to give David some feedback on what the American market thinks of his work:



  1. i love the work... really beautiful. I find that these African pieces seem to sell for larger money over here in van-city if they are over-sized. To make them unique from other types of African jewelery found I would suggest combining 2-4 of the necklaces into a 2-4 strand single necklace...featuring different textures and possibly one with coloured beads. Also, if he can make any larger beads, that would make a lovely piece as well.

    I hate to say it, but for the earrings and such it is really important to have proper hooks to sell them overseas... even better choice considering the clientele may be to use hypo-allergenic hooks.

    Would love to see anymore pieces you have, and get price on his work. I am actually looking for someone to collaborate with to make jewelery for an ethical clothing line that i am starting... do you travel to Africa often? Hit me back if you get a chance.

  2. Kelli, I agree with your comment about the hooks. I am in Africa now and I brought a boxload for him to use rather than the safety pins he's been using. The challenge now is how to reduce his reliance on me to get the right hooks because I don't want to create dependency. It's tough in Zimbabwe though because since Zimbabwe moved to adopting the US dollar (to curb runaway inflaation), everything costs a minimum of USD$1. This is because there is no change in the market (ie. no quarters or dimes etc..), so everything is very expensive and out of reach for many, many people. I expect things to improve though, and so in the meantime, we're going to speak to the more professional jewellery makers in Zimbabwe to find out where they get their hooks for a reasonable price. There are many people who make gemstone jewellery here.

    I like the idea about mixing the beads and perhaps using larger ones. I'll let him know your suggestions. Thanks for the suggestion, this exactly what I hope to achieve through blogging!

  3. I'd like to help Mr. Kasama can I purchase some of his work though you?

    Is it feasible to send him hooks and other materials from the U.S. in exchange for some of his jewelery?

    I am a woodworker and sell to small shops, I'd be willing to bet they would like Mr. Kasama's work.

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