Midway between East London and Port Alfred is the coastal village of Hamburg, which lies in an area of immense natural beauty, boasting undulating mountains with dense forests, lush vegetation, pristine beaches and the Hamburg Nature Reserve near the Keiskamma Estuary.
The 160km Keiskamma River flows through Hamburg into the Indian Ocean, making this seaside hamlet truly beautiful. “I love living the village life,” says Production Manager of the Keiskamma Art Project Cebo Mvubu who, in 2003, was able to study fine arts at Border Technikon through the Keiskamma Trust. “I promised myself I’d come back to my community,” he says, highlighting the traditional way of life in Bodium, the neighbouring village in which he lives, and the local arts and crafts community of the Keiskamma Art Project that he discovered when he was 19.
Many households in this area survive on a combination of government grants and small-scale farming, fishing or some part-time labour in the hospitality/domestic home industry, but the population of about 1,000 living in Hamburg can no longer rely on the income that tourism used to generate before the pandemic. That is why locals are encouraged to visit this beautiful part of South Africa. There are efforts to promote eco-tourism here, with tours that explore the unique Xhosa culture and history and the origins of the 1820s Settlers. There are also plenty water sports, hiking trails and boat trips to be enjoyed in Hamburg.
While time might dictate that visitors fly to East London and then take a scenic hour’s drive along the R72 to Hamburg, taking the longer Garden Route drive will culturally enrich the itinerant traveller. From George, an hour’s drive on the N2 will take you to Knysna, with its scenic hiking trails, whale viewing and world-famous oysters. The Tsitsikamma National Park is also en route, with its popular Otter Trail. Surfers can stop at Jeffrey’s Bay and animal lovers may visit the Greater Addo Elephant National Park before hitting the Sunshine Coast, part of the Amathole district under which Hamburg falls. The mountain passes along the way offer road travellers bends and curves that at times reveal exquisite views of the Indian Ocean.
WHEN TO VISIT
The region is an area for cultural and leisure tourism with its unique biomes and rich history. While winter nights may get bone-chillingly cold, even during the coldest seasons balmy summer days can suddenly appear. So while the summer season, when daily temperatures average 28-degrees Celsius, is the best time of year to visit, the region is still attractive in winter, with average daily temperatures of 21 degrees, thanks to the region’s subtropical climate.
A MASTERY OF MATERIALS
The totem is fully embroidered by hand and was made with wool from Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth) and appliquéd materials on hessian. Other materials include wire and hand-dyed felt from East London. The artists in Hamburg, using high-quality dye from Germany, dyed the rest of the material. The art of working with these materials, dying them, drawing on them, painting, sewing and creating the embroidery, makes the women feel empowered while creating something with their own hands. “I am proud that I wake up every morning and get to do what I enjoy – embroidery and drawing,” says Nozeti.
THE STORY OF IZINTSIKA ZAMANDLA
The three concentric wings on each layer of this totem tell a story about women and their resilience. That is why it is called Izintsika Zamandla, meaning ‘Pillars of Strength’. The narrative illustrates how these women have been the mainstay of the art project, and how they have persevered under trying circumstances in their communities. It also represents the ecological uniqueness of Hamburg, where they live, and its beautiful indigenous plant life, represented by aloes, strelitzias, irises and arum lilies.
The first cylinder has women standing side by side, almost as totems or small memorials in themselves. The second shows full portraits of the women who are part of the project. At their feet are three-dimensional flowers and plants endemic to Hamburg, made from wire and felt. The unique fauna and flora of the area are further represented on the third cylinder, through embroidery.