May 2007 Travel Zambia 31 Tribal Textiles was born 15 years ago in a remote hunting camp just outside the park, when a young English woman called Gillie Lightfoot, bored with ballistics, dusted off her art school design books and paint-box. Inspired by the local wildlife, the ochre-tinted designs on the village huts and the sitenje-swaddled women weaving up from the river, she began to design textiles. With Moses Mussa, still her manager and right-hand man, she perfected the technique of starch resist fabric painting. Together they dug termite mound mud to make clay bricks, built a wood-fired oven to fix the paints, and employed the painters’ wives to scrape the starch from the finished pieces. Local safari lodges soon began to sport new bedspreads and tablecloths, and before long even the most backcountry bush camp had a battered tin trunk of gorgeous fabrics for sale to clients. Before she knew it, Gillie’s hobby had become a passion and her cottage industry, in the parlance of the hunter, went ‘rogue’. Today Tribal textiles sells not only to souvenir-hunting tourists, but also exports to Europe, USA and Japan, as well as supplying a thriving regional market in South Africa, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania. Local know-how has been boosted by international systems, and overseas experts – from management consultants to art school graduates – have come over to share their skills. A visit to the workshop is a feast for the eyes and soul. A constant happy banter flows between the tables where the artists are at work: the ‘starchers’ deftly draw the intricate designs freehand with a flour paste mixture; the ‘mixers’, using an uncanny eye and wooden spoons, mix fabric paints to match the swatches on their sample boards; and the ‘painters’ apply the colours to starched and dried pieces with precision and panache. It’s hectic, busy and, most importantly, seems like fun. What might be a sweatshop anywhere else seems instead to exude an indomitable African joie de vivre. Tribal Textiles looks set to get bigger, which means more jobs – and more incentives and bonuses for those who excel. Anyone who knows anything of rural African culture understands the difference that just one regular wage makes in a household full of extended family. You can multiply the number of staff at Tribal Textiles by about ten to get a measure of how many people directly benefit from jobs there: that’s ten people who would otherwise lack the school uniform required by law to gain a free education, the money needed to reach the clinic and receive free drugs, or the cash to buy seed maize for planting. And because this is a private business supporting the families of everyone employed there, including Gillie, it has to work. It has to run efficiently, it has to get better every year and pay better wages. There are no donor handouts to balance the books. And with Tribal Textiles having now gained the Fair Trade seal of approval, you can eat off one of their tablecloths with a clearer conscience than you can wear many of your clothes. Ultimately Gillie’s dream is to orchestrate a staff buyout, thus placing the company firmly in the hands of the people who have painted it to success. This is the Holy Grail so seldom achieved in the multi-billion dollar world of development aid. Don’t put it past her. Tribal Textiles is located close to Mfuwe International Airport, about 25km from the main entrance to South Luangwa National Park. Most camps and lodges in the park offer visits and workshop tours. Visitors can watch the textiles being made and purchase a wide range of hand-painted products. To learn more about Tribal Textiles, and browse their catalogue, visit: www.tribaltextiles.com “You can eat off one of their tablecloths with a clearer conscience than you can wear many of your clothes.” ALL PHOTOS TRIBAL TEXTILES Artists at Tribal Textiles (above, top) use flair and precision to create garments that are both gorgeous and practical (left).
32 Travel Zambia May 2007 Lodge life Zambezi dreams Lodges in the Lower Zambezi National Park have the Zambezi on their doorstep and the escarpment in their backyard. It’s a stage set for romance. At Kasaka River Lodge ..(www.kasakriverlodge.com) the honeymoon suite is the last chalet along the river’s edge, affording maximum privacy to the happy couple. The double bed is a four-poster, naturally, and the stone bath is open air, allowing its occupants (and yes, there’s room for two) to soak in the luxury, while watching game on the river bank. Honeymooners can fix their own itinerary: personal safari, meals at the chalet, and even candlelit dinner a deux on a nearby island. Chongwe Camp (www.chongwe.com) also has outdoor baths and offers a similar personalised service, including bush dinners and private game drives. The owners promise to make their honeymooners’ activities ‘special in a different way’ – which leaves plenty to the imagination. Sausage Tree Camp (www.sausagetreecamp.com) forgoes the thatch in favour of Bedouin-style tents, all sweeping canvas and white linen, for those who prefer their romance more Lawrence of Arabia than African Queen. Nonetheless, the elephants wandering through camp will soon remind you exactly Safari is synonymous with romance. Maybe it’s the gorgeous sunsets, or perhaps the primal pulse of nature in the raw. Either way, how better to launch your newlywed bliss than by disappearing into the wilds with nothing but the lion’s roar for company? Oh, and perhaps a bottle of bubbly, a sunken bath and a discreet personal valet. Mike Unwin (already married) investigates. Safari operators have not been slow to capitalise on Zambia’s honeymoon potential. Blessed with a natural backdrop that trumps even the swankiest Parisian hotel, they have set about capturing the romance of their surroundings for the loved-up visitor. Today every self-respecting lodge boasts a honeymoon suite, where discretion, luxury and personal service are the order of the day. Attention to detail is guaranteed, with rose petals, fine wines, all the trimmings – and most lodges will tailor-make a honeymoon ‘package’ for the happy couple. Some want the full-on Out of Africa extravagance. Others prefer their romance a little more rough-edged. Either way, their every whim is catered for. Hot Honeymoon Honeymooners at Tongabezi get a bedroom with a view.