Turning dung into dough

Cathrine Moemedi
JUMBO PAPER: Elephants feature heavily in William's work

Creative cashes in on elephant pooh

In 2016, Emafa William’s world was turned upside down when he lost his job at Brand Development, an arts and crafts enterprise.

With work hard to come by, the gifted Maun creative took his destiny firmly into his own hands – quite literally!

Popularly known as ‘Mawila’ on the tourist town’s streets, William has made his name as an artist with an eye for the unusual, expertly turning trash into treasure, carving wood into wonders and pounding pooh into paper.

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The skilled carpenter, who turned 40 earlier this month, operates his recycling business, Re-Deco Crafts out of Maun’s Nhabe Museum.

Among others, he specializes in elephant dung paper, paintings and sculptures.

Trumping up his ‘jumbo’ product, the artist tells Voice Money he starts with regular paper, the type found in schools and offices.

He then mixes the bog-standard paper with elephant droppings, which are readily available in his neighborhood of Moeti, where the giants frequently lumber past his house, leaving a trail of manure in their wake.

“We encourage people to bring their paper litter to us. We pound it into a traditional mortar and pestle then mix it with the pounded elephant dung to make our paper,” reveals William, who explains the ‘special organic ingredient’ acts as a binding agent and improves the paper’s durability.

“The mixture constitutes 30 percent elephant dung and 70 percent paper,” he adds.

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As well as coming up with unique merchandise, William’s work is also eco-friendly, something that is close to his heart.

“It protects the environment as paper is largely utilized and often when it is not disposed of properly it makes our surroundings look untidy. Many people locally know about me, they bring these papers to us,” he highlights happily, adding the paper has been tested by University of Botswana and Botswana Bureau of Standard and certified as ‘environmentally friendly’.

Once dry, ‘Mawila’ turns the elephant dung paper into journals and special paper bags. He also produces paper balls, designed to burn slowly for braiing meat.

Although they are yet to really take off with locals, his creations are extremely popular with international tourists craving souvenirs to remember their stay in Botswana.

“The idea behind the journals was to give tourists locally produced materials where they can write and paste pictures from their safari experiences,” states William, who prices his A4 diaries at P8, while his bags come in three sizes and range from P10 to P20.

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Turning dung into dough
PAPER OVER PLASTIC: Mawila with his paper bags(L), TOURIST ATTRACTION: The elephant dung stand(R)

Despite such seemingly cheap charges, Re-Deco boss says some insist that it’s still too expensive!

“Local people do not appreciate the value of crafts, they complain about prices. They say the quality is not the same as the ones from stationary books. They think just because I do not buy my materials the prices should be low: they do not consider my time and effort that I put into the production,” grumbles Mawila, his laidback, easy-going demeanor disappearing for a second.

His intricate sculptures, many of which are carved out of old tree stumps, are also a big hit with visitors to the country. Elephants, as well as other members of the ‘Big Five’ feature heavily in William’s woodwork, the biggest of which can sell for a whopping P10, 000.

Again though, his art is rarely brought by locals, most put off by the asking price, which starts at around P400.

It is a problem many local artists face; however, it won’t stop William from doing what he loves!

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