Friday, November 27, 2009

The Silversmith's Project

"If you wish to increase the speed with which you are evolving, seek to observe more".
CwG, Book 3
Neale Donald Walsh

The old Portuguese fort on Ibo Island, which once housed hundreds of African slaves, is now home to a very different activity.

As you step through the entrance the 'tap, tap, tapping' of the silversmith's tools can be heard echoing through the rooms. Passed down from father to son over hundreds of years, this craft was first learned from ancient Indian Silversmiths who settled on the island. Traditionally, Portuguese coins were melted down and used as raw material but nowadays the artisans have access to a supply of silver and are able to distribute their wares internationally.

It is delicate work and the Silversmith's sit for hours working on just one piece which can take up to two weeks to complete. I love the flowing, curly patterns of this intricate jewellery. It is very feminine and I bought a beautiful necklace that looks like a line of daisies strung together.

Having spent a few Monday evenings in the basement of a jewellery shop in Pimlico, with eye shield on and blow torch in hand, I could see that the techniques that they were using were very ancient. I could appreciate the skill and concentration that goes into the process.

Ibo's silver tradition dates back to the 12th century when explorers from the Arabian peninsula sailed across the Indian Ocean bringing their trade and traditions to the shores of East Africa. For the next 800 years, Ibo Island became a port of call for Chinese, Indian, British and Portuguese explorers. This coming together of cultures gave rise to a fascinating blend of cultures that is still visible in the designs of the jewellery.

The craftsmen are highly revered amongst local community members and the intensity and seriousness they bring to their work is palatable.

The Silversmith's Project is just one of the small but sustainable projects managed by Ibo Island Lodge, the 'brain-child' of Fiona and Kevin Record. The principle aim of the lodge, from its inception, was to provide clear economic benefits to the people on Ibo Island.

22 years ago now I was sitting on the back of an old, clapped-out motorbike darting in and out of the chaotic traffic that makes up the streets of Old Delhi. I was visiting a number of small scale Oxfam projects dotted around the ever-increasing shanty towns. For my final year dissertation I had chosen to answer the question:

"NGO Aid, a good way to channel resources?"

What better place than India to find an answer..?

NGO stands for 'non-governmental organisation' and these groups are characterised by a small scale, 'bottom-up' approach to development which is known for targeting the poorest of the poor without the wastage that often occurs with larger scale work. So often World Bank aid is imposed, has a political agenda and is inappropriate to the environment. NGO's roll up their sleeves at grass-roots level and really engage intimately with the people and their issues.

Small scale development focuses on the skills of the people that are already in place and tends towards empowerment rather than control.

It is great to see this approach being implemented with such care on Ibo through high-end tourism.

To see more of the Ibo jewellery visit

Sunday, November 22, 2009


"Why mistake the weather for the sky?"

Lyrics from Kirtana
Song: The Train Song
Album: Falling Awake

Friday, November 20, 2009


"True ambition is the profound desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God."
Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

Friday, November 13, 2009


"Writers don't need tricks or gimmicks or even to be the smartest fellows on the block. A writer needs to be able to just stand and gape at a sunset or an old shoe - in absolute and simple amazement."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Open Door

"You are that awareness, disguised as a person".
ECKHART TOLLE, Stillness Speaks

The fact that we reach the fort just before sunset is a bonus. The white cross throws a long, dark shadow over the roof as the light of the sinking sun sparkles on the surface of the water. Lined up at regular intervals, the large black canons point ominously seaward. The surrounding palm trees sway back and forth in the warm breeze and two dhows (African sailboats) can be seen passing each other on the far horizon.

Down in the courtyard, the bright green leaves of a huge almond tree contrast against the blue sky above.

The walls of each room lining the quadrangle are thick, and bright sunlight streams through the narrow slits and round portholes. Each room has a story to tell.

Dollar’s quiet but firm voice cuts through the silence. Named the Fort of Sao Joao, the building’s unusual star shape was decided by the Portuguese, he explains. Designed to accommodate up to 300 people in the days when this island was linked in with the slave trade, the dark, cramped lower chambers were used as slave holding points.

Dollar Karingiramambo, our Zimbabwean guide, is adept at weaving past and present into fascinating anecdotes and stories. But today the words aggravate me like an open wound.

I wonder off from the group with my camera.

The sounds of the words feel unnecessary and intrusive. Real communication after all, needs no words. I often wonder whether more caring is done for yourself and 'the other' when sitting, silently.

Just now, the shadows, the light, the vibration and the play of colours is more than enough.

Feeling takes over and the stillness is overwhelming....

Experiences like this remind me of how lucky I am. Just a moment of presence makes up for days spent in the pain of illusion.

These moments make me aware that clarity and confidence is more than possible, in fact, that anything else is short-changing myself.

The door is always open and beckoning for me to create this feeling in every moment of my life...