“Venda – the word itself conjures up images of python dances, sacred forests and ancient traditional beliefs. And, in a way, it is just that; magical, cultural, friendly, welcoming,” says Sarah Bergs on her recent Woza travel blog about Madi a Thava – Woza Travel focus on Fair Trade hotels, green accredited Eco lodges, Nature lodges along birding routes and Safari holidays.
VhaVenda people has a strong sense of own identity
Venda, is what was once known as a tribal homeland – areas designated during Apartheid to keep certain tribes of people together. Many homelands were formed, but after apartheid were disassociated and were no longer referred to as such. Because Venda is so isolated in the far northern corner of South Africa, the VhaVenda has formed a stronger sense of place and identity than other former homelands.
Soutpansberg, crossroads for tourism, wildlife and cultural heritage
The area is nestled in and around the foothills of the Soutpansberg mountains, situated near Botswana, Mapungubwe National Park, Kruger National Parks Pafuri Gate, Zimbabwe and Mozambique’s eastern border. This makes for interesting crossroads for tourism, international travel, wildlife and people. Several cultures call this area home, the Venda, Tsonga and Northern Sotho. As you travel you come to understand the cultural complexities, differences and beautiful nuances of this special place.
Madi a Thavha a burst of colour, luxury, Fair Trade and sustainable tourism.
We spend one weekend in Venda and were hosted by one of our Fair-Trade venues that we also showcase at Woza Travel; Madi a Thavha mountain lodge. Madi a Thavha is luxury, with an emphasis on sustainable tourism benefitting the surrounding communities, what could be better!
Madi A Thavha is a burst of colour at the foothills of the mountain, tucked away in thick emerald bush, a living, breathing artists landscape. Suppers are deliciously simple meals served in the dining area. Our room was a sensory experience; exposed copper plumbing, shwe-shwe (traditional fabric) cushions and decor, art pieces with information on their local creator, and joy-of-joys, real filter coffee. Sitting outside after dinner listening to the enchanting call of the fiery necked nightjar, one feels connected to the earth, yourself and to the people that inhabit the space around you, and blissfully disconnected from city life.
We awoke the next morning to a flock of crested guinea fowl pecking around in the bushes just outside our door. After a healthy breakfast, we headed off on our Elim Arts & Culture tour with Musa, our tour guide who grew up in the neighbouring village of Elim.
Vibrant village tours can only be experienced
The tour cannot be adequately described, it must be experienced. Informal markets with their sense of entrepreneurship, stalls at each corner selling varieties of foods, wares and even dried Mopane worms! Music thrums through the air, the crowd of people pulsate with life, people selling wares, people offloading bags of Mopane worms from a crowded bakkie. This is life in semi- urban Africa. After spending some time shopping for vibrant African fabrics, we were off to experience the more rural villages, and to visit a few of the renown crafters.
Traditional potters, talented musicians and woodcarvers
Venda has become well known for its amazing wooden sculptures and clay pottery. Our first stop was a the traditional Mukoneni pottery centre run by talented local women. The women running the pottery cooperative showed us how to make a clay pot. They make it look simple but in this act, one recognises their skills and true craftmanship. Madi a Thavha’s picnic basket, a real treat, was served under a big tree at the pottery Village.
We then visited a local woodcarver, and musician a protege of local legend Thomas Kubayi. Amazing pseudo-mythical wood carvings each tell a story and throughout the yard old pieces of wood are shaped into fish, animals, or people. Thomas Kubayi’s Vutsila Art & Cultural Village and School of Art houses many beautiful sculptures, even a mini music centre (complete with “soundproof” studio made of upcycled egg cartons) – we enjoyed a couple minutes of AMAZING local music on hand made instruments. The beat and pulse of the earth and her sounds is carried through in the hands and hearts of people like this. Music is indeed the lifeblood of Africa
Real traditional rural life to be experienced
After several more stops (along dusty village roads, which Musa navigated expertly) we visited a rural homestead which we could visit to showcase life in a Venda family. A woman sitting outside on a mat, preparing local spinach (marog) for dinner, harvested from the garden. And the cow dung floor cleverly applied and left to dry, before patterns were etched in. This is an age old tradition, and creates a beautiful strong floor and it is special to see these traditions being kept alive.
Dancing fish gallery at Madi a Thavha very informative
That afternoon we still managed a little time at the Dancing Fish Gallery at Madi a Thavha – a preservation of local cultural and historical artefacts and stories. It was interesting to read about the history of this area, and her people – as well as the stories behind the different art and bead work one sees.
Our last morning, we were up early to exchange fond farewells with Aart and Marcelle – the owners and gracious hosts at Madi a Thavha. Their commitment to uplifting individuals through sustainable tourism (Fair Trade Tourism) was so wonderful for us to see and experience, and the income generation and exposure to the talented artists such an inspiration.