Ankole cows are known for their magnificent horns and are central to the rich culture and history of Uganda’s Bahima tribe, to which Olivia belongs. She says:
“My people came from the horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia – nobody really knows. We migrated with our cows, looking for greener pastures. Our whole life revolved around this cow. It’s a distinct breed - with the largest horns of all the bovine species. We revere it. You find it every aspect of our lives. Our song and poetry. Our dance. If a women has beautiful eyes, you tell her her eyes look like those of a newborn cow – innocent and pure.”
Despite the historically important role of Ankole cows, Ugandan farmers have begun to crossbreed the species with western cows that produce more milk, and thus, are more economically lucrative. These new cows have increasingly smaller, more brittle horns, and as the crossbreeding process continues, may cease to have horns all together.
Olivia Knox is working to reverse that. By building market demand for Ankole cowhorn, Olivia Knox is seeking to create economic value for the cows and for the farmers who choose to keep their breeds pure. The stakes of this project are high, Olivia says, “If these cows become extinct, my culture will go with them.”
Olivia, while raised in Kampala, spent much time growing up on her father’s ranch in Western Uganda where he had 1,500 cows – each of which, she says, he knew by name. While the personal and cultural symbolism of Ankole cows is deeply important to her, so also is the material itself. “It has a natural finish,” she says, “and it doesn’t need be glossed. How many other natural materials can you say that about? The color range is unbelievable – from black to ivory – every piece is different. No one else can ever have the same piece you have.”
We too cannot get enough of cowhorn’s unique and stunning color variations. From pieces that evoke deep amber sunsets to dark smoky nights, the range is striking and truly beautiful. Were Ankole cows to die out it would not only be a loss for Uganda, but for the rest of the world, which would no longer be able to experience the lustrous beauty of their horns.
Olivia Knox is dedicated not only to conserving the Ankole cow species, but also to empowering the communities in which it works. While at the moment Shanley & Olivia partner with a local factory to manufacture their products, they plan to open up a factory of their own in the near future and to hire local Ugandan women to work there. Olivia Knox's commitment to entrepreneurship, empowerment and cultural appreciation fits right in with our mission and we are proud to betheir partner!