Traditional Adornments of the Ovambo tribes in Namibia/South Angola
Omakipa buttons, mainly carved from elephant ivory are not fully researched. From what we could trace the tradition started off in early 19th century and gained value and importance up to the arrival of Christianity. During the last 30 years they have become appreciated again. By now, they are rare and difficult to get.
These decorative ivory buttons were made in various sizes 12mm to about 100mm in diameter, depending on the size of the elephant tusk. They were carved mainly from elephant ivory, in rare cases from hippopotamus or warthog tooth.
They were worn initially by the ladies of royal families. They symbolized the wealth of the family when worn, but they were also traded for food and livestock. Omakipa, as a symbol of wealth were and still are very important for traditional events as for example weddings .This family treasure was, and still is, gladly displayed at such feasts.
Over time the patterns have become more complex. The oldest samples have a plain linear structure, often only two horizontal lines. Later, shorter lines were carved connecting the parallel lines creating elements of little square blocks. Even later, a third horizontal line was introduced; thereafter these were connected with each other. These are all geometric features. Organically shaped ornaments are very rarely found.
After being shaped and carved, the Omakipa were treated in different ways to get their characteristic patina. From white to yellow brown, reddish brown or dark brown. Therefore they were boiled with certain leaves, bark or other natural substances. Usually the colour goes deep into the ivory material. It is not just on the surface. After that procedure they were polished with sandstone and rubbed with aloe extract to darken the carved lines.
Eight to twelve Ekipas of various sizes and shapes were worn on one Leather strip hanging down from the belt.
These days, new Omakipa are carved with even patterns. Sometimes they are dyed pink like the Owambo dresses. It is not advisable to purchase the newly made Ekipas. Even though some are made from broken old Ekipas, most of them are made of new ivory and it is uncertain where that ivory is sourced.
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