I get this regular newsletter from PeterJasie in South Africa. (Make sure you click on the English link!) He is retired and spends a lot of his time holidaying all around Southern Africa and his newsletter is a mixture of useful information, travel information, recipes, often a “letter from Zimbabwe” Mirna van Wyk articles (she is an educational psychologist from Stellenbosch) and lost of other snippets of information.
Here is an extract from his latest newsletter – but first, one of his photographs.
Venda Myths and Traditions
The Venda people were one of the last black tribes to migrate south of the Limpopo River. When they moved in to South Africa they found a beautiful, bountiful area, which they promptly named Venda (pleasant place) and settled there.
Lanky, yet graceful, the Venda people are warm and friendly. Their history began in the valleys and mountains of Limpopo Province, where their forebears established a great civilisation centred round Mapungubwe.
Though ruled by kings, the position of women in Venda culture is unusual in Africa in that they are encouraged to occupy senior positions in society. It is common for a woman to inherit her father’s estate where there is no apparent male heir.
Children and the elderly have their own role to play. This is linked to the recognition and worship of the ancestors. Having just joined the earthly plane, the children are still close to the ancestors. The elderly are also close to the ancestors because they will soon join the spiritual realm in death.
In Venda tradition there are many sacred sites, especially Lake Fundudzi high in the Soutspansberg Mountains. Even today, it is believed this is where the White Python – the god of fertility – lives.
A must see is definitely the sacred “Lake Fundudzi” situated in the Thathe Vondo forest, the home of the mythical python and white crocodile. The python is the god of fertility in the Venda tradition and the legend tells us that a Venda man had a broken heart because of the loss of a great love. In his sorrow he walked into Lake Fundudzi at which time he turned into a python. Young virgin Venda maidens still perform the famous Domba-python dance in this area to honour this god of fertility. It is also believed that the white crocodile lives in this Lake. This crocodile might have really existed because this Lake is still today populated by large crocodiles, and an albino crocodile might have once lived in the lake where young, virgin Venda maidens were once offered to them. Lake Fundudzi is surrounded by mountains and special permission has to be obtained to visit this sacred Lake. No-one washes or swims in this lake.
Also in the Thathe Vondo forest is the so-called “Sacred Forest”. The Thathe Vondo forest has giant hardwoods (jakkelsbessie, yellowwood), a wide variety of ferns, creepers and a wealth of plants and trees which makes the forest nearly impenetrable on foot. The Sacred Forest is a mystical place, where no ordinary Venda person may walk and as a visitor one may not walk off the dirt track going through the forest – hikers are not allowed. In the Sacred Forest, two mythical creatures keep guard namely the white lion (the spirit of Nethathe an important chief) and the thunder and lighting bird called Ndadzi which according to myths flies on the wings of thunder. One can speculate further about this bird and its origin, and the origin of the Venda people.
The Domba is not a tourist attraction but a ceremony with deep meanings, and it is not possible to witness many parts of it (teaching, ritual bath.). The public is only able to see the dancing which is the occasion for men to choose future wives for their nephews or sons. To see such a dance one gets goose bumps running up and down your spine looking at the bodies movies together to their own rhythm.
This is traditionally a male dance in which each player has a pipe made out of a special indigenous type of bamboo growing only in a few places around Sibasa and Thohoyandou but unfortunately these have almost disappeared. It is quite something to listen to the pipe which has only one note and they have to play in turn in such a way that they build a melody.
The Tshikona is a royal dance, each sovereign or chief has his own Tshikona band. Tshikona is played at various occasions for funerals, wedding or religious ceremonies, this can be considered as the Venda “national music/dance
The Tshigombela is a female dance usually performed by married women, this is a festive dance sometimes played at the same time as Tshikona.
Tshifhasi is similar to Tshigombela but performed by young unmarried girls (Khomba) – womenfolk.