Land Of Legend

The Vhembe region is a spiritual haven

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In the farthest northern reaches of South Africa, on the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe, under endless blue skies, there is a land of unique and enduring beauty. Abundant wildlife, vast expanses of magnificent indigenous bush, and the living myths and legends of the VhaVenda people combine to provide visitor’s to Limpopo province’s Vhembe region with an unforgettable experience of adventure and mystery.

The Vhembe region is justly famous for its magnificent natural heritage.In the west arise the majestic peaks of the leopard-haunted Soutpansberg, providing shelter for the vast plains of the Limpopo Valley as they sweep towards the north. Watered by the Limpopo River, the valley nurtures more than 500 species of trees, including the giant baobab.To the east, there is the Lowveld and the iconic Kruger National Park; to the north, the national heritage sites of the Mapungubwe National Park and the Makapane Valley. This is big game country, where most of Africa’s large animals can be found, including lion, leopard, white and black rhino, elephant, cheetah and spotted hyena. The unspoilt wilderness areas have plenty of sophisticated resorts for visitors to revel in luxurious hospitality amidst unparalleled natural splendour.It is in the south, however, that ancient ways of life and unspoiled nature combine in the “land of legend”, where the vhaVenda people maintain their time-honoured traditions.

Mystical woods and waters

he Thathe Vondo forest is sacred to the vhaVenda. Folklore abounds with tales of spirits, white lions, the Ndadzi bird that carries the thunder and lightning, and pythons that were once men who foolishly ventured into the forest. These tales are tangible beneath the canopy of giant hardwood and yellow-wood trees, criss-crossed with creepers. The trees and thick undergrowth are alive with countless birds, including white-starred robin, chorister robin-chat, Knysna turaco, yellow-streaked greenbul and orange ground-thrush.Because of the Venda people’s reverence for the forest, visitors have to be accompanied by a local guide, who will take them along a designated forestry track; no hiking is allowed.Below the forest, ensconced in the mountains, lies Lake Fundudzi. Haunted with crocodiles, the lake is one of the vhaVenda’s most sacred sites. Traditionally, visitors are not allowed to look at the lake directly but look at the water backwards, from between their legs.

The lake is fed by the Mutale River, said to be the residence of a gigantic python god.Every year, the domba, or python dance, is performed by young women as part of their initiation rites. The dance can be viewed subject to obtaining special permission from the “people of the pool”, as the local custodians of the lake are known.Thanks largely to these taboos, Fundudzi remains in a good state of preservation.Another sacred site is the Phiphidi Falls, on the Mutshindudi River. For the Ramunangi clan, this crystal cascade, framed by thick forest, is a channel where they can communicate with their ancestors.Phiphidi lies within a forest on the Mutshindudi River. The rock above the waterfall is the rock LanwaDzongolo; below it, the pool Guvhukuvhu, which is beleived to be the home of ancestral water spirits, and where offerings of beer and grain are brought.Visitors are urged to respect local tradition and obtain permission to visit the falls from the Ramunangi, or to contact local guides and travel companies who work with them.

Meet the artists

The Vhembe region is also a hotbed of artistic creativity. There are several art routes, of which perhaps the most famous, the Ribolla Art Route, begins at Elim, a tiny village founded by missionaries.From Elim, the art route wanders through the beautiful rural Limpopo landscape, taking in the towns of Makhado, Giyani and Thohoyandou.

On the art route, visitors can meet many local sculptors and artists, some of whom are internationally famous, with work on display in galleries throughout the world. Basket makers, bead workers, potters, crafters and drum-makers are also hard at work. Most frequently, the paintings, etchings, sculpture, woodcarving, beadwork, pottery and textiles that the artists produce reflects Venda culture in a way that respects the traditions of the past while making them relevant to the present, in the classic African style. It’s very much a living art, and visitors can find out more by interacting with the artists in their own studios and workplaces. Some of the Venda artists who have acquired international stature include Noria Mabasa, Thomas Kubayi, Justice Mugwena, Avahashoni Mainganye, Rebecca Mathibe, and Grace Nekhavhani.

 

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