Eking a living out of animal hides

Eking a living out of animal hides

MOHALE’S HOEK – A MOURNFUL song of the initiates about extinct wildlife comes to mind when one sees Mawethu Makoko’s bags, blankets and hats made of hides. Through the song, the Basotho traditional initiates caution about the ills of overhunting.
The lyrics go: “Likhaka li felile mapolasing, ho setse tse peli feela ho khabisa naha”, which when loosely translated means, “Guinea fowls are finished in the veld, only two are left to decorate the countryside”.

Conscious of this fact and the realisation that future generations would only get to know some species through books, prompted Makoko to collect hides which he uses to make bags, blankets and hats.
For the love of the country and its nature, Makoko decided to venture into the craft business using hides and other items from all the wild animals found in Lesotho.
The 35-year-old from Qacha’s Nek manufactures bags, blankets, hats and other items using mammals’ hides such as cattle, hare, jackal, goats and reptiles.
Makoko says he realised that the level of extinction of nature meant future generations might never get to see the wild animals that are the pride of the country.
‘‘Some do not even know how they look like,” Makoko says.

The preservation of their hides will leave a mark that they once existed, he said.
Makoko says his passion started in his childhood when he used to go to the veld since his family had domestic animals that he had to look after during school holidays.
Herding cattle was also punctuated by hunting for wild animals.
Amongst the many wild animals he came across, his mind was captured by the beauty of the jackal and nyekeleli, an extinct animal whose English name we have not found.

‘‘I sometimes felt like I should keep it for myself and the coming generations.’’
He has always yearned to keep the jackal’s and nyekeleli’s hides because of their beauty.
Makoko explained that while he was still gazing at the beauty of wild animals, especially his favourite jackal, he came across other herd men sewing art items such as bags.
“I used to sit next to them while they were doing their work. Every time, they asked me to insert the thread through the needle’s eye, I would jump even before they could finish their statement,” he said. He says that time he was still too young to own a needle and at one time he sneaked into his family’s home to steal a needle.
After succeeding with the mischief, he started sewing too.

Makoko says he started using the rexine (a type of leather) to make a hat. When he got home everyone was excited about his craft.
“I then decided to extend it to animal hides since I realised that the wild animals would start to disappear soon,” he says.
Makoko says the first hat he made was from a monkey’s hide. It got everyone laughing but seeking to own one, he said.
‘‘From that time I realised that this is not just a funny art but it is a business too.’’
Makoko says the reaction of the people motivated him to do more.

People who did not know much about wild animals were regarding this not only as something jsut funny but educative too.
Most of his customers wanted his items mainly for traditional ceremonies and to preserve them as part of their culture.
Makoko says in 2003 he officially turned his art into a business.

Because he does not want to hunt the already scarce wild animals, he stocks the hides from South Africa to manufacture his crafts.
Makoko says in 2011, he enrolled at the Thaba-Tseka Technical Training Institute (TTI) where he undertook a leather course to broaden his knowledge on leather.
But he could not complete the two years and he dropped out just after six months due to family problems.
“However, this did not hinder me from moving forward with this business,” he says. “I still make beautiful hats.”

An example is the hat made from the monkey’s hide and it has the shape of a squatting monkey.
The monkey hat has two openings for the eyes. At the back it has got a monkey tail.
While the news crew perused through his items, Makoko took out a blanket made from a combination of hides of goat, monkey, jackal and snake skin.
The business requires one to possess a deep love for crafts for it to be sustainable, says Makoko.
He explains that the business is seasonal and flourishes during cultural days. “We are now approaching Moshoeshoe’s Day and people will be buying and hiring the crafts.”

Makoko further mentioned that he also sells a lot of his items to South Africans on their cultural days since some of them stay only a few kilometres away in Matatiele.
Makoko says the business has not only impacted his life but other people’s as well.
He says there are people who buy his items in bulks to sell in big towns since he is running his farming business in Qacha’s Nek.

He says even the boys in his village normally visit him to seek information about wild animals.
“Through this business, I am supporting my wife and my primary school-going child.
However, finding hides is no easy task.
“If I have an order for a bag made from monkey hide, I have to walk all over even to South Africa to get it,” he says, adding that his goal is to own a “big boutique” which will be convenient for tourists and locals as well as own a machine to soften the hides to be ready for sewing.

Refiloe Mpobole

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