Windhoek — The Swakara industry last week celebrated its 110th anniversary in a splendid way in Keetmanshoop with representatives from the Copenhagen Fur and other international associates in the pelts industry also attending the Annual General Meeting.
During a glamorous dinner in the evening awards were made to various producers. During her speech, Julene Meyer, chairperson of the Swakara Board, paid tribute to the pioneers who established the much-sought-after industry 110 years ago in Namibia.
Agriculture Minister John Mutorwa echoed this tribute and assured the government's continued support to the industry through his ministry. The Swakara industry has already been identified by government as a strategic industry some years ago.
Another highlight of the evening was the fashion parade where clothes from Swakara pelts which were manufactured by international designers were modelled. The 10 models were all local girls with a bond to the industry.
An experienced producer in the Swakara industry, the 80-year-old Piet Steenkamp, received the Quality Award as best producer. The International Fur Federation was awarded with the Golden Lamb award in recognition of the cooperation between the Swakara board and the International Fur Federation.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Central Asia (today's Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan) became an important supplier of karakul or Persian lamb skins, especially those from the area of Buchara.
In Leipzig, a renowned furrier company called Thorer, which started back in 1612, advised the German colonial government, which ruled over then South West Africa (now Namibia) to introduce karakul sheep to the country. A small herd of karakul sheep was imported into Germany in 1903 for research. The arid, desert conditions in Namibia are similar to those of the Central Asian steppes.
On September 24, 1907, the first 12 sheep - two rams and ten ewes -arrived on board a freight ship in Swakopmund, which at that time still had a harbour.
From these humble beginnings, the karakul industry grew in leaps and bounds, reaching its peak in the 1970s. The karakul sheep has some unique qualities. It has a dominant black gene, so a very high percentage of these sheep are born black.
A desert animal that stores fat in its tail for nourishment in lean times, it is very hardy and adaptable. The pelts of the karakul lambs are historically referred to as 'Persian lamb' or 'Broadtail'. This pelt is a lustrous coat of intricately patterned curls.