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UBUNTU (article first published : 2007-01-1)

Village Quilters received a commission from the YMCA to make a wall hanging for their 16th World Congress held in Durban in July 2006. Thereafter it was sent to Geneva to hang in the World Headquarters of the YMCA.

“Initially we submitted it to the Port Elizabeth National Quilt Festival where it won First prize in the Group Quilt category,” says well-known quilt expert, Colleen Roberts. “What a thrill for all of us!

“It was taken down in Port Elizabeth on July 8 and hung up the next day at the Elangeni for the start of the World Congress (July 9 to 16). Immediately after the conference, the quilt was taken to Geneva. As a guild, we are very disappointed not to have been able to share this wonderful quilt with our fellow quilters in KwaZulu-Natal.”

The Zulu Pot – Mind: the three vessels (two Zulu baskets and one Zulu clay pot) portrays the full being “mind, body and spirit”. The quilt features cellphones representing communication; music and dance for recreation; necklaces for clothing and cogs for industry and employment.

“Education should have been included here but somehow the square books did not look right on the round beer pot with the result that Education is featured on the tall basket,” explains Colleen Roberts. Tall Basket – Body features fish (food); houses (housing and other such facilities); AIDS symbol and condoms (medical services); books (education), and buses (transport).

The “Ubuntu” Basket – Spirit. “This basket symbolises the Spiritual aspect of the YMCA. The words embroidered on the pot try to explain the meaning of the concept of Ubuntu but this word is difficult to translate from Zulu into one English word,” says Colleen Roberts. “It is a whole concept of community meaning that “no man is an island, entire to itself….”. A person does not stand alone – he is made up of his past (his ancestors), his present (family, friends and those around him) and his future (those he is yet to meet). In other words “A person is a person through other people”.

The Worshippers/People: These figures embrace men and women from all nations. “Bearing in mind that, although the YMCA is a Christian based organisation, it does however include people from all denominations,” explains Colleen Roberts, “therefore we placed the YMCA triangle on some of the bodices.

The background is made up of hands which were embellished with script taken from mission statements that came out of various world conferences. Four different languages were used – English, French, German and Spanish (unfortunately we could not write Japanese!)

“The YMCA asked us to put 127 flags and their conference logo on the front of the quilt. Unfortunately we were not able to incorporate these elements into the design on the central panel and therefore we made two separate side panels measuring 150 cm x 50 cm, which did not go to Port Elizabeth, but do form an integral part of the quilt.

“It took us four months to make this quilt! We worked in groups, each of which had a leader and we got together once a week to coordinate everything – size, colours, proportions, sharing of fabrics and to generally get input from everyone. There were also those with special skills like hand appliqué, machine lettering skills, quilting, drafting, machine embroidery and research for the 127 flags which in today’s world change like the wind!! Therefore you might not have worked in a specific group but your skills were used somewhere on the quilt.

We felt very honoured to be given a commission like this and hope that Ubuntu inspires people worldwide to “Strive together for Life and Peace”,” adds Colleen.




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