Cultural heritage is a big thing in Northern Limpopo and so is our magnificent Baobab trees, see how we are marrying the two and export them both.
Vendas have high regard for their cultural heritage
Woodcarver and herbalist David Murathi is a VhaVenda man. Venda people have a high regard for their traditions, customs and sacred rituals. Sacred sites are special places of cultural, ecological and spiritual significance, where they connect and interact with their ancestors and the spirit world. These sites represent a mythical and spiritual presence in the landscape and are regarded by traditional communities as doorways to other dimensions of the ancestral world.
David’s woodcarvings often depict the customs and legends of the Venda culture. There is a close connection between the sacred Fundudzi lake with its python god of fertility and the girl’s initiation Domba dance, also called the Python dance. The Domba dance is part of the 3rd stage of a girl’s initiation into adulthood. The dance imitates the movement of a python in a fertility rite, which teaches young girls the rules and functions of marriage and womanhood.
The Baobab tree itself has a special place in the Venda culture and is often the gathering place in rural villages and said to be dwellings of guardian spirits.
Carved baobabs exported to Denmark
Nowadays David carve baobabs for Mzungu a client in Denmark. Mzungu is an Africa-inspired sustainable-food company. Their mission is to create demand for unknown and tasteful products from subsistence farmers in Africa. They seek to create opportunities in Africa through trade that help improve living conditions and preserve original forests.
David carve 2 Domba themes for Mzungu on their baobabs:
Domba figure without bangles
When girls start to have their period, they will be ready to attend the first stage of the Domba as entrance to adulthood. “The crossing of arms is a token of respect when talking to an elder person,” says David. During this time, the girls may learn many new traditional dances – also the striking and sensual Domba/Python dance that very few outsiders get to see in real life, since it is part of the initiation rites where men and outsiders are not allowed.
Domba figure with bangles
According to custom, the leader of the Domba will give copper and silver bangles to the girls, which indicate that they are now ready to be married. Bangles and beads worn around the arms and legs have different meanings during different life-stages. The bangles show that they have now been taught respect to parents, elders and their future husbands. They would carry porridge called tshivhonelo or traditional beer in clay pots on their heads, to be given to the elders throughout the domba. In the TshiVenda language, the bangles are called Vhukunda for many or Lukunda for one bangle.
The Domba is summoned by the blowing of the kudu horn, phala phala, when a chief’s daughter reaches puberty. Her age group must now prepare for marriage, attend domba, learn the dances, learn secret songs, see the secret objects matano and witness the mimes, also named matano. A ritual fire is lighted, a treated stone buried at the kindling and the fire kept alive for the full 9 months of school, the time symbolising the fertilisation-to-birth period.
Sketches by Barbara Tyrrell from the book; Tribal peoples of Southern Africa. Baobabs donated by ECOproducts in Limpopo.