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Women making a mark in Zimbabwe

September 25, 2020

In the Southern Matabeleland province, Zimbabwe, the women deserve great respect for their amazing artistic skills.  Every year, after the harvest, they turn their villages into a colourful paradise by using their hands to paint the exteriors and interiors of their cottages with complex designs. Using charcoal, ash, water and soil, this annual ritual celebrates the changing of the seasons and in doing so makes their homes beautiful. Once the summer rains arrive their artwork is slowly washed away until winter when the women have to start all over again.

The theme of these amazing artscapes is the rhythm of life within the villages. This rhythm is translated into abstract patterns using diamond shapes, stepped lines, dots, zig zags and scallops.  The nature and wildlife around them also features in their intricate patterns and really does make the village very beautiful. Every inch of the interior and exterior walls are covered with patterns that flow seamlessly between everyone's cottages.

Sadly as modern building materials become more widely available in Zimbabwe this traditional art style is at risk of disappearing.  More and more brick houses are being built. 

“Architectural traditions are changing in design, style and type of construction materials,” says Pathisa Nyathi, a prominent cultural historian. “Painting by brush has eroded the artistic tradition that has for centuries been executed through the use of hands.”

Nyathi runs the Amagugu International Heritage Centre in Matobo, which works to protect indigenous Zimbabwean cultural traditions and knowledge, and a group of like-minded volunteers started an incentive to support the local women to explore their creativity when decorating their cottages. The My Beautiful Home competition started off small in September 2014 in just two wards of the district.

The judges travelled around the region for two months, visiting houses and choosing 10 finalists in each ward.


“Throughout, we met strong, independent women, often running single-parent households and on the flip side, men who were evidently proud and supportive of their wives and their work and often, when news travelled that our car had been spotted in the area, waited on the side of the road and waved us down, urging us to come and look at their wives’ handiwork,” says KeeTui. “If nothing else, this competition, we realised, has given women stature, and recognised and rewarded their role in the homestead and beyond.”

By STAAC

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