Walter Sisulu University’s environmental science lecturer Zendy Magayiyana believes the economic potential of the handicraft industry along the Wild Coast region is greatly underestimated.
She also believes that should men from rural villages get involved in the production of handicrafts, the industry would develop even further.
“Handicraft is not only an important source of livelihood, but is also associated with socio-cultural traditions and is fundamental for the preservation of cultural diversity and identity,” she said.
Magayiyana chose to focus her research on four tourist attractions: Coffee Bay, Mazotha Bay, Port St Johns and Port Edward.
The crafts she identified included beadwork, sewing, pottery making, house decorations, weaving and even designing Xhosa ceremonial clothing.
Her research revealed that the majority of artisans are women over 40, which means less skilled labour in the handicraft industry because these people are nearing retirement.
“There is minimal development in the Wild Coast region because there are less men involved in handicraft tourism. They feel bead work, sewing and pottery are feminine tasks, suitable only for women,” added Magayiyana.
The research also established that tradition and culture are some of the main contributing factors for the dominance of women in handicrafts in the region.
“When the women in these areas are widowed, they are required by tradition to go through a year-long period of mourning period for a year.
It is during this period that they acquire their craft, as a pastime,” Magayiyana said.
Another factor, she said, was that young girls along the Wild Coast attend initiation school, where they are taught etiquette, as well as how to produce traditional garments and accessories.
“I also found that HIV/Aids affects women’s ability to work in gardens, so they rely on bead making and sewing to make ends meet. With their deteriorating health, handicraft work is less strenuous,” Magayiyana added.
She said government should create incentives for men to get involved in, and manage, the handicraft industry.
“With the help of the rest of the community in the Wild Coast region, particularly the men, these communities could reap great rewards,” said Magayinana.