Venda Cultural Experience

Venda Women Working Outdoors
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The Venda People

The Soutpansberg Mountains of the Limpopo Province in South Africa is the home of the Venda people, the smallest of the South Africa cultures. The Venda culture is steeped in the spirit world and finds expression in their woodcarvings, pottery and the decoration of their buildings.

History

The history of the Venda starts from the Mapungubwe Kingdom (9th Century) where King Shiriyadenga was the first king of Venda and Mapungubwe. The Mapungubwe Kingdom stretched from the Soutpansberg in the south, across the Limpopo River to the Matopos in the north. The Kingdom declined from 1240, and power moved north to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom.

The first Venda settlement in the Soutpansberg was that of the legendary chief Thoho-ya-Ndou (Head of the Elephant). His royal kraal was called D’zata, the remains of this have been declared a National Monument.

The Venda Culture

The Venda culture is built on a vibrant mythical belief system, and water is an import theme, believing lakes and rivers to be sacred, and that rains are controlled by the Python God. One of the most sacred sites of the Venda is Lake Fundudzi. Here annually the Domba Python Dance is held, an offering of beer is poured into the lake, and young maidens, as the final stage of their initiation into womanhood, line up in single file and dance in long winding lines, like a snake. The Domba is important to secure good rains for the following season.

Drums are central in the culture and there are legends and symbols linked to them. Most sets of drums are kept by chiefs and headmen, and comprise of one ngoma, one thungwa, and 2 or 3 murumba.
An important part of Venda culture is ancestor worship and their close ties to the spirit world. The Sangoma or traditional healer is believed to nave access to the spirits and seeks guidance from the ancestors. Many Venda consult a Sangoma if they became ill, who would diagnose the trouble in the spirit world which might be alleviated by a particular course of action and usually prescribes a course of herbs.

Lifestyle

In rural areas cattle mean wealth, and the lifestyle revolves around agriculture. Male and female roles are clearly defined, with the men responsible for livestock, ploughing and the building of huts, while the women do most of the harvesting as well as all the domestic duties. Polygamy is still common, and due to the prosperity of the farmland, fewer men leave the area to work in the mines than is the case with many other tribes. As a result, traditional life has changed little over the years.

Venda Woman Smiling
Young and Old Venda Women
Dancing Venda Women
Venda Crafts
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Venda Baby Girl

Venda Children

In the traditional and modern Venda Culture generally babies and young infants are cared for by their grandmothers, which in Venda are known as Gugu.

The role of the mother traditionally in the Venda culture is to work in the fields, tending the crops and collecting food and ensuring enough water for the whole family. These days many mothers have jobs in the local cities such as Louis Trichardt or in our case at some of Louis Trichardt accommodation establishments or farms in the area.

The traditional role of a man / father in the Venda culture is building and caring for cattle. Today a lot of men go to work either in the area or further afield. Both on the traditional side and modern age the father is not really involved in parental care.

When a child is old enough there is a separation of the girls and boys for the large majority of the day. The girls will help their mothers and grandmothers in the fields and around the home. The boys however go out herding and they will protect the crops against baboons and other animals.

Venda Girl Smiling

Cultural dress for Venda children

According to Venda culture, the infant has no specific attire and remains naked, but for a string of wild cotton, (ludede) which is tied around its waist until the weaning stage when they are given the tshideka.

The tshideka is a basic garment, worn by both sexes, and consists of a piece of square cloth sewn on the Ludede to cover the private parts, however the buttocks remain uncovered. Two squares can be used, one for the front and the other for the back. When an infant is immunized it is given the lukunda to be worn round the wrist and ankle to protect them against evil spirits.As the child is weaned, clothes are used to differentiate sex, the boy puts on the Tsindi, and girls a Shedo.

Venda children’s music

From an early age it is essential for a kid to start learning dance routines and drum playing. As Venda children start spending less time with their grandmothers and more time with other children they begin to participate in music making more and more and sing songs and musical games, which are known in Venda as “nyimbo dza vhana”.

 

Venda Children’s Games

The Venda children love making things and many of the top craftsmen started learning their skills at a very early age from their Grandmother or father.

Little boys make cars which they push a round for most of the day.

The Venda children and adults play a number of games, probably the best known is played by making a number of holes in the ground and moving stones around in a logical and tactical manner.

Another favourite pastime is football and the Venda boys like their fathers are football crazy.

Venda Child Smiling
Happy Venda Children
Limpopo Child Smiling
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Venda Dance and Music

Dancing is an important part of Venda culture and the frequency of performances depends to a great extent on the season and economic wealth. If the countryside resounds with music, especially at night when it is cool, it is a sign of good times. Venda music and dance is not a substitute for happiness, but an expression of it.

Dancing is sponsored by rulers, and they will send their dancers to other rulers, either to confirm their relationship or, if he is a chief and they are headmen, to exact tribute.

Venda Culture: Domba Dance

The most famous of the Venda dances is the Domba, or python dance which is held annually at one of their most sacred sites, Lake Fundudzi to secure good rains for the following season. Young maidens, as the final stage of their initiation into womanhood, line up in single file forming a chain and dance in long fluidly, winding lines, like a snake. Traditionally the dancers wear small aprons covering the back and front, with tasselled ornaments called thahu.

Another famous dance is a royal dance called the Tshikona, which can be considered as the Venda “national dance. Traditionally it is a male dance performed at funerals, wedding or religious ceremonies. Each dancer has a pipe which is made out of a special indigenous type of bamboo and has only one note and they blow it in at a specific time so as to build a melody with the other pipes.

During planting and weeding only important ritual music and work-songs are performed regularly. However, when the first green maize cobs are appearing, girls perform the festive dances, tshigombela and tshifhasi. The tshigombela is usually performed by married women whilst the tshifhasi is very similar but performed by young unmarried girls (khomba).

Circumcision schools are held during the winter, and possession dances and boys’ communal dances take place chiefly during the period of rest between harvest and planting.

Venda Culture: Drums

Drums are often given personal names and are always played by women and girls, except in possession dances, when men may play them.

Drums form an important part of Venda culture and there are legends and symbols linked to them. Most sets of drums are kept in the homes of chiefs and headmen, and comprise one ngoma, one thungwa, and 2 or 3 murumba.

Venda Drum
Venda Cultural Drum
Venda Musical Instruments
Pattern

Venda Traditional Dress

Traditionally in the Venda culture, the Venda wore only clothing made of skins which were obtained by hunting.

The Vendas believe in the ancestors living with the living, so clothes that are believed to be sacred, represent these ancestors. Around the neck of a Venda lady, a series of beads and amulets may be worn, often very old, each of which is associated with an ancestral spirit. These are passed down through generations as sacred trust and to part with one is to risk immediate retribution from the ancestral realm.

Venda Male Dress
Venda Female Dress
Venda Traditional Outfits

Venda Culture: Infants

According to Venda culture, the infant has no specific attire and remains naked, but for a string of wild cotton, (ludede) which is tied around its waist until the weaning stage when they are given the tshideka.

The tshideka is a basic garment, worn by both sexes, and consists of a piece of square cloth sewn on the Ludede to cover the private parts, however the buttocks remain uncovered. Two squares can be used, one for the front and the other for the back. When an infant is immunized it is given the lukunda to be worn round the wrist and ankle to protect them against evil spirits.

As the child is weaned, clothes are used to differentiate sex, the boy puts on the Tsindi, and girls a Shedo.

Venda Culture: Male Dress

The tsindi is a triangular piece of soft skin covering the front, passed between the legs and tied at the back and a male will continue to wear variations of this throughout his life.

The chief traditionally wore an animal skin headband and a karos or sila over his shoulders.

Venda Culture: Female Dress

Girls start with a shedo, a small square of fabric sewn onto a broad strip which hangs down in front as a small apron. When a girl develops breasts she wears a nwenda at the waist or just above the breasts.

Meanings are attached to the embroidery done on the Nwenda. When a single line of embroidery is done, it is an indication that one is not yet engaged, while those who are engaged have a Minwenda with many lines of embroidery.

Around their ankles girls wear grass anklets, Mutate, before they are engaged; these are removed when she receives real anklets from her betrothed.

Mapala beads are worn by girls and young women and advertise “I am still young and lovely just like a flower which attracts bees. I can bear children for you since I am still fertile.”

The khomba is a girl at a marriageable age, she will still wear a shedo but now solely as an under garment and wears the Nwenda tucked on the waist or above the breast, unless she is performing her initiation rites. Vhukunda (anklets and bangles) is a sign of being engaged, hence the Venda saying: ‘Mmbwa ire na mune ivhonala nga tshiangaladzi’. Meaning ‘the dog which has the master is known as such by a neck collar.’

Veda dressThe bath towel, Thaulo, is an important garment of the Venda female. A woman is said to be well dressed when she emphasizes her hips with a small towel. These days woman wear the towel when they attend the Tshisevhesevhe ceremonies. When a girl is engaged the husband buys a towel for her to cover her face with in case she meets one of her betrothed.

Married ladies dress in a dignified manner, thus demanding respect from the community. She wears the Tshirivha –which is made from the skin of sheep or goat and is well decorated. The ears of the goat are made up into small studs and fastened at the shoulder part of the skin on the decorated side, where they act as the eyes of the Tshirivha.

Old women, past child bearing, wear a skin similar to the Tshirivha but made with goat skin complete with head and neck. This garment Phale is stretched lengthwise instead of broad wise. This skin, when properly prepared, reaches nearly to the ankles.