Soft dung-floors and colourful wall-art on traditional Venda, Tsonga and Northern Sotho homesteads are some of the most distinct characteristics of rural Limpopo. Sadly, with modern brick-and-mortar houses being easier to build and more convenient to maintain, this wonderful indigenous art-form becomes scarcer by the day.
Preserving heritage in contemporary form
Rural Limpopo fortunately still offers an abundance of inspiration; from dung-floors-patterns and traditionally painted homesteads to colourful, traditional attire with beads, wooden sculptures and rural clay pottery.
At Madi a Thavha we have used the beautiful floor and colourful geometrical patterns seen on traditional homesteads to create contemporary wall panels on canvas. We enhanced the ‘abstract looking dung art’ with traditional beads and embroidery. This became one way to show the world Limpopo’s colourful heritage and the diverse styles of various tribal groups in our province. At the same time, we offer the many city dwellers with rural roots, the opportunity to take a piece-of-home back to their urban apartments.
Sustainable dung-art, memories of rural roots
Dung floors and adobe walls are much greener than cold concrete too. It gives the thatched traditional African huts with its colourful, geometrical patterns and velvety ‘dung-floor-carpets’ a warm, welcoming feeling. This is part of a rural child’s memory-bank and one that never fails to pull those with rural roots back to their family homes and villages. Besides, the floors and wall-patterns get a brand-new topping twice a year – always having a surprise in store to see what colours and patterns Mama picked for Christmas or Easter this year!
What is a dung floor really?
A dung-finishing to an adobe floor is a special technique used to build-up floor and wall surfaces by using a mixture of termite hill clay, soil and to finally add a last decorative layer of dung and natural oxides with their deep, earthy colours. The whole process requires special knowledge; where to find and how to apply the right kind of soil and oxides. A dung floor is applied by hand, in continuous, quick, smooth motions that entails a lot of practice to get the beautiful patterns like carpets on the surface. A new floor first gets 3-4 layers of clay mixture. Each layer must be compacted and smoothed well and left to become a 100% dry. The last dung-and-oxide layer is normally done by a woman with artistic flair and one that knows her trade. In most villages there are wall-paint-specialists that get asked to help friends or family with these last, creative touches – like a rural interior designer.
Dung floors are where rural life happens
Soft, warm dung floors with a fire in the middle (mealies roasting on the side) around which elders tell stories to children, their cousins and neighbouring children, still form an inherent part of African family life. The soft texture remind us of the simple, close-to-the-earth pleasures and communal spirit we grow up with here.