Oshiwa Designs for wood block printing stamps are the creations of Kavango Woodcarvers Mutunda Paulus, Dhumba Joseph, and Joseph Kanwa, of Namibia. The designs are intrinsically African, but at Oshiwa, a vast range of generic designs, each one beautiful in its own right, were developed during the years 1994 and 2010, first for hand carved photo frames, and later for print stamps. Each stamp was painstakingly produced by hand and each design carefully considered - the opposite to a mass-produced product. Although many patterns originally symbolized or represented some aspect of Kavango culture or myth, the patterns eventually merged into an almost endless range of powerful geometric forms and shapes that adorn wooden objects or which can be used to print on fabric or paper.
Over the years, far more printing stamps were produced at Oshiwa than sold. Tough economic times meant that Oshiwa had to slow down on production of wood block stamps. Joseph now plies his woodcarving craft back home in Kavango, producing mainly animal figures for the tourist industry, Paulus continues to produce hand carved photo frames at Oshiwa and on occasion still carves printing stamps. Dhumba is employed at Studio 77, a local framing workshop, where he applies the skills developed at Oshiwa.
Mutunda Paulus is a lay preacher who works among the Kavango people who have migrated to the capital city of Windhoek, Namibia. He is from the Ngangela tribe, and is married to Helena. They have six children: Likwa, Ngosarve, Emilia, Johana, Berta and Rizanga. Like many other Kavango residents, Paulus migrated with his family from Angola more than 25 years ago, and all his children have been born in Kavango.
Through all the trials and tribulations of migration, first from his original homeland in Angola more than 30 years ago, to Kavango, and now to the city, where he finds himself a spiritual guide to many of his kinfolk who are suffering the same privations of poverty, displacement, unemployment and lack of education, Paulus has maintained his work as a carver. As a young boy, he learnt carving from his father, who in turn came from a long line of craftsmen who specialized in the making of furniture, musical instruments, and eventually curios for the tourist trade. Paulus and his family are skilled at building huts and canoes. For many years before joining Oshiwa in Windhoek, Paulus worked at Okahandja, a carving community on the route between Windhoek and Kavango in the north. After years of migration between his home town of Rundu in Kavango and Windhoek, he has now settled in the city with his family, but still maintains a family home in Kavango.
Paulus printing a wood block carved at Oshiwa.
Dhumba Joseph was born in 1973. He is married to Johannes Maria and has four children: Paulus, Eli, Lukano and Frans. Dhumba migrates between Rundu, his home town in Kavango, and his workplace in Windhoek. Dhumba speaks English, Afrikaans and Ngangela, his home language.
Dhumba’s work at the Oshiwa workshop in Windhoek until 2010 entailed the measuring, cutting, joining, finishing and assembling of the Oshiwa frames, and, when time allowed, designs for print stamps. Traditionally, Dolf, Ngongo and Musivi wood is used for carved animals that are sold in the tourist trade, and for furniture, musical instruments or bowls. At Oshiwa, Wawa wood, which is imported from Ghana, is used, as it available in consistent supplies from controlled forestry plantations, is extremely pliable and, though strong, can be carved by hand with a knife, allowing greater flexibility for the carver as he shapes patterns and designs from the wood.
Dhumba Joseph in the Oshiwa workshop in 2009.
Joseph Kanwa was born in 1954 and speaks Ngangela, English and Afrikaans. He belongs to the Lushiazi tribe of Kavango. Joseph is married to Krestina Mpingana and they have seven children: Enoke, Panduleni, Levi, Likumsi, Selemon, Numinga and Ngongo. Joseph’s designs are based on generic forms of the traditional patterns of Kavango carvers. Although the traditional myths no longer hold the same power over the lives of the Kavango people, many of whom are modernized and live in the cities to make a living, the memories of ancient myths that have been carried down from generation to generation, are still alive in the work of artists like Joseph.
Joseph, like Paulus and Dhumba, comes from a family of carvers. As a small boy, he started by carving animal figures to play with. His father was well-known as a craftsman who carved tables, chairs, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and cups and bowls. Joseph hopes that his sons will continue his tradition of carving, but the cost of wood, long distances to markets, competition from neighbouring countries, and the influences of city life, make the tradition of carving less attractive to the younger generation.
Joseph Kanwa at Oshiwa in 2009.