Sophia Baloyi was born on 25 April 1945 on top of one of the foot hills of the Soutpansberg close to Elim in area of Limpopo which was then called ‘far northern Transvaal’. This Tsonga ‘gogo’ (grandmother) is an excellent beader of traditional Tsonga jewelry and accessories.
Bead for tiny bead, lots of of skill and patience recquired
To create the intricate symbolic patterns that her clients like on traditional calabashes, wedding baskets and walking sticks takes a lot of patience, skill, time and focus.
Nowadays such beading skills are scarce
Sophia was orphaned when she was still a toddler and grew up in her aunt’s employer’s house at Elim from where she went to school. In the afternoons she helped her aunt with housekeeping and learned how to do traditional Tsonga handwork, beading and cooking. In those days sewing was still taught in schools. Nowadays people with the skills to make quality beaded and embroidery products are hard to find.
Pulling in her family and friends
Sophia taught her granddaughter Sandra how to bead and also pulled in her talented sister Lerisa who lives next door to her. Since she and Lerisa started to collaborate with Madi a Thavha we have worked together in re-interpreting traditional patterns and designs in the latest fashionable colors and together came up with beautiful beaded items. She is a happy gogo today, living in Bokisi village close to Elim where she grew up, and is looking after five of her many grandchildren. She was 60 years old when she started to make traditional beaded jewellery to earn extra money. Her woodcarver friend, Lucky Ntimani in Bokisi, introduced her to Madi a Thavha when we were looking for an expert to bead grass woven baskets.
Product development with master crafters
Beaded baskets makes popular bread or snack baskets but because they are so beautiful many people love to hang them in various color or pattern compositions on their walls. People knowing how to weave are also disappearing since the local demand for woven products is not as high as it used to be in the olden days – plastic bowls are cheaper and more durable – but not as beautiful. Fortunately, there are still a few skilled basket weavers in the neighboring villages of Bokisi.
Training workshops at Madi a Thavha
Sophia was part of a Creativity in Craft training program at Madi a Thavha funded by the National Arts Council. She celebrated her 70th birthday in 2015 during one of the workshops at the lodge. When we surprised her with a chocolate cake with candles she was totally bowled over: “It is the first time in my life of 70 years that I get a cake for my birthday, thank you, thank you,” she kept on laughing.
A young, lively Gogo
Sophia is a young and clever 70, she and Lerisa works hard, grow their own vegetables, look after their grandchildren, are eager to learn more and both are quick to catch onto new ideas. During the workshops at Madi a Thavha Sophia learned how to use heritage based techniques and materials to make contemporary products, based on the design and colour trends for tourists and interior decorators. She was very excited when we gave her new colour combinations to decorate the baskets and immediately started experimenting. Her woodcarver friend Lucky Ntimani also display her traditional bead work at his rural gallery which we often visit on our village tours to Elim vicinity.