Here at Rondavel, we love finding out about the sustainable uses of natural resources – their historical, current and future potential. Most of our product formulation is about taking raw ingredients from Nature, and combining them to create something new, that is both functional and true to its roots. The traditional Southern African hut, a rondavel (Afrikaans for Round House) is a perfect example to us of how human hands can take natural materials and shape them into a functional, beautiful form. This is why we have chosen this humble dwelling as our logo.
Although Chikondi and I spent our childhoods in quite different worlds, (me in small-town Apartheid South Africa, and him in-between the freer countries of Zambia and Malawi), we both have early memories of spending time in rondavels. Whether is was visiting family on dusty farms for school holidays, or grandparents in rural Malawian districts, there were always rondavels polka-dotting the landscape with their round, unobtrusive forms.
Traditional rondavels are made with locally available materials, and the walls can be stone with mud mortar, or wattle and daub, or just an earth mixture of clay, sand and cow dung. The roof structure is made of tree branches, and is always thatched with grass stems or reeds. The thatch is sewn on with grass rope, starting at the bottom and working to the top, to make a waterproof layer. The floor is made with compressed red clay and cow dung, that is often fired to harden it, and polished with fat until it glows.
Sleeping in a wonky old bed, or on a grass-mat, the sweet smell of new thatch (or the dusty smell of old thatch), the rounded, rough earth-plastered walls, the cool floor beneath bare feet as you walk towards the old wooden door to greet the morning – and the noisy chickens that woke you up so early- and the adventures of the day that lay ahead…these are some of the memories we have of staying in a rondavel. I believe humans, especially children, respond favourably to experiences with natural materials. These memories of scent, touch and sight give us a connection to the builders, and the natural materials they used. Nothing plastic or pretentious. And if these rondavels were left to the elements, unmaintained, they would slowly disintegrate and return to the earth from which they were made. What better model for our soap? Made from natural ingredients, combined with centuries-old techniques by human hands to form something functional and wonderful, and when no longer needed, will gently biodegrade back into the earth.