Stories from the Kalahari Part 4: Fashion & Function

Part 1: Stories from the Kalahari
Part 2: Language
Part 3: Living Locally
Part 5: Springhare for Breakfast

On a walk through the Kalahari. We were joined by men, women elders, teens and children.

I really like the outfits the women wear in the Kalahari. Reallylike them. I asked one of the women there 3 times if she would trade clothes with me.  I wanted to bring home her leather skirt with ostrich egg shell beads. Each day I wore a different, increasingly special shirt that I brought from home or pair of pants to up the anti, showing her what I was willing to trade on the spot.

Her response every day  was translated by Neeltjie the same way, “I like the colors, but the fabric is too thin and will tear”.  My cotton shirts & pants would not hold up walking through the sharp branches and thorns of the Kalahari for very long.  After going to visit the village, one women’s outfit was given to our group to pass along to a friend of hers living where we were headed next.  I was holding it, I couldn’t resist.  I tried it on.  It fit perfectly!  It felt amazing. The heavy leather was protective yet soft. It had a unique smell that fit with the place we were, and immediately made me feel like I blended into the landscape of the Kalahari. I felt the courage of the antelope who wore the skin before, running through the desert, hoofs on sand. I imagined the taste of dry aromatic leaves it ate, I thought about the hunt, the tanning process, and the elements that went into making this time tested functional fashion. I thought about the ostrich egg being shaped into beads, the fiber used to string each one onto the skirt and the hands that created the pattern. Everything came from walking distance of this very spot I was standing in.

Jodi Levine wearing functional fashion in the Kalahari Desert.

I am determined to get a skirt like that one day even if I have to make it myself, from start to finish. The sage scrub of our local wilderness would be a perfect trial grounds for a leather skirt of this style. The skirt was two “apron-like” panels that tied around the waist. One tied in front, covering the back, the other tied in back, covering the front. The top tied around the neck and back, like a string bikini. Some of the women also wore cape-like pieces that they used to shade their upper bodies and some women carried babies on their backs with pieces of hide as well. The top had been mended several times, patched tears and extensions added to the leather ties. I wonder how many women had worn this, and for how many years?

Don’t be surprised if next time you see me, I’m wearing something like this.

Coming soon: Part 5

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