Colourful Elim, a rural-hip buzz of activity

Elim Art and Culture tour

This tour introduces you to colourful Elim and surrounding villages where we visit the traditional homesteads of  woodcarvers, potters and other local families. It is quite possible  to drive around on your own, but we advise guests to make use of the services of a local tour guide, since many of these places are not well-marked or easy to find on the myriad dust roads connecting villages between the mountains.

Daily township life in Tshikota and Indian shops in Makhado

The tour starts from Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge. From here you visit Tshikota and the Indian area in Makhado/Louis Trichardt. Tshikota, the township of Louis Trichardt/Makhado gives an impression of the daily life, housing, shops, shebeens, and schools in rural townships. The Indian area with its vibrant businesses and shops, mosque and urban areas is well worth a visit.

Buzz of Elim informal market

Then we’re off to Elim and the first stop is at the informal tin-shack market to get a feel of the local vibe. It is predominantly Tsonga and Venda people living in this area; the colours and people in traditional dress, the buzz and traditional food is a favourite spot for especially photographers.

Batik, embroidery and beading

From there one can go to Twananani Textiles, where a group of 12 women, inspired by traditional Tsonga patterns use hand painting techniques, block printing, dyeing, bead work and embroidery to create a wide range of home decoration and fashion products. They also run a creche and guests are welcome to join singing our beautiful national anthem ‘Nkosi Sikilele i Africa’ – God Bless Africa,  with the children.

One can also visit the Masungulo beads and textile workshop of Elisa and Maureen Makuleke nearby; they specialise in Tsonga bead work, embroidery and traditional jewellery.

Meet young scrap-artist at his homestead

Pilato Bulala is the quintessential inventor of tin helicopters, handmade hybrid bakkies, mini school buses and ‘scraptures‘ – his own word for the interesting birds and fishes and rural scenes he builds out of recycled scrap metal. Pilato’s new rural gallery is at Dzama-Dzama where he also makes and sells beautiful recycled tin earrings and necklaces.

Chill at Thomas’ rural studio with beautiful sculptures and traditional instruments

The next village bordering onto Dzama-Dzama is Tshivhuyuni, where famous artist Thomas Kubayi runs his woodcarving workshop and built his own rural Vutsila Art Centre and music studio. This is a nice spot for a break, a picnic-lunch and to enjoy the beautiful rural landscape. If pre-arranged, visitors can play traditional music instruments with some of Thomas’ students, like Kenny Nonyani, here too. Thomas’ wife Charlotte does bead-work on calabashes and makes very nice bracelets from traditional glass beads.

Famous traditional Venda potters

Further along the Mashamba road one finds Mukondeni Pottery factory. Here it is very interesting to see the skilled and famous Venda potters demonstrate how they make their pots and how the traditional open-firing process works. In and around the factory a large collection of pots and other clay objects are showcased and sold to visitors.

A few hundred meters further down that road is Mukondeni Pottery Village; where a group of 15 women, established by the late Sarah Munyai, produce traditional and contemporary Venda pots, clay fire-place-pots, bowls, clay tiles and beads.

The village women dig clay from the river in their village; this clay is the strongest and best for making clay pots,  potters would come from as far as the Limpopo river valley for this clay. For decoration-‘paint’, the potters use graphite and ochre oxides, found in the Luonde Mountains close by. They decorate their pots with geometric patterns and various traditional symbols like fishes.

You might have noticed, fishes and mermaids are  particularly strong symbols of this region,  evident in the works of local woodcarvers like Thomas Kubayi, Owen Ndou and the late and famous Jackson Hlungwani. Fishes are symbolic of the spiritual traditions of the Venda and the Tsonga people, with several, culturally embedded stories and legends told about water-spirits that live and brings forth Life and messages through the interconnected waterways above and below the land – also connecting the people to the great Vhimbi ocean on the east-coast of Africa – if you ever wondered where the Venda surname ‘Luvhimbi’ comes from.

Many of the local fish-artworks are exhibited in Madi a Thavha’s permanent Dancing Fish art gallery.

Lucky Makamu’s wall-art and huge woodcarvings with metal inlays to be seen

Lucky Makamu’s huge angels and angel benches easy to recognise, because he decorates his wooden sculptures with copper and metal ornaments. Lucky is also a traditional healer and he and his wife always decorates their homestead with interesting wall-art and innovative use of recycled materials in his fences and gates. He  lives and works   in Mbokota village, near Elim.

The multi-talented Lucky Ntimani

Like many other woodcarvers in the vicinity of Elim, Lucky got inspired by the late Jackson Hlungwani, who generously taught all the youngsters who flocked to him from all over the world, even Germany. Lucky is also a musician, playing guitar, marimba and many other traditional music instruments. He explains the meaning of a sculpture by the stories and music he is playing. He also likes to teach young people in the community and to encourage interest in craft and music. “My artworks is about telling old Tsonga stories or our culture,” he says, always smiling.

The Elim Art and Culture tour can be expanded by visiting other equally interesting community projects and schools, this is part of our personalised approach based on our guests’ individual interests. Please also see some other options below:

Rates Elim Arts and Culture tour

Elim Arts and culture tour
Tour including transport – tour guide – picnic. From 3 persons per person – valid until 31/10/2018 R 890
Tour including transport – tour guide – picnic. For 2 persons per person – valid until 31/10/2018 R 1335
  • All tour programmes and activities can be adapted to personal needs and interests.
  • Bookings can be made through info@madiathavha.com | +27 (0) 83 342 4162 | +27 (0) 15 516 0220 | madiathavha.com

 Additional loops and activities on Elim tour

  • At Chavani, the home village of our tour guide Musa Matchume you can visit the school where Musa’s mother is the principal.
  • If driving in the direction of Levubu subtropical valley and Malamulele the route passes the village of Mashau where David Murathi lives. Mostly working from his homestead,  he sculpts fishes and other beautiful functional art from indigenous woods. His home, workshop and small gallery with plenty of sculptures, wooden fishes, towel racks, hooks and mirrors makes a fabulous stop. David’s dreams and ancestral spirits inspire him and each object he carves is a piece of art. He knows a lot about traditional healing and grows many indigenous and medicinal plants in his garden.

Activities to be done on Elim tour

  •  At Mukondeni Pottery Village and at Mukondeni Pottery factory visitors can make their own clay pot, a nice activity for parents and kids.
  • At Vutsila Art Centre visitors can play traditional music instruments with the students of Thomas Kubayi’s woodcarving workshop
  • At woodcarver and musician Lucky Ntimani’s rural gallery, one can also play traditional music instruments and perhaps see Lucky’s dance-group of students.