"Hu ambuwa vhuṅanga; vhukololo a vhu ambuwi."  (The medicine-man who crosses a river [into foreign territory] takes his craft with him, but royal rank cannot be taken abroad).~ Venda Proverb. It means "Away from home high birth does not count."

                           Beautiful Venda women from South Africa wearing their traditional dress

The Venda  or Ba venda (Vhavhenda or Vhavgona) are an amalgamation of Bantu-speaking Southern African people living mostly near the South African-Zimbabwean border. The Vhavenda or the "Venda" as they are popularly called, are perhaps the only Black nation south of the Vhembe River (Limpopo River), whose country was not named after the people. The name "Venda" means land or country. It has no prefix or suffix to indicate that it is a land inhabited by a certain people. That is why its inhabitants are Vhavenda or the Venda, meaning the people of Venda. The country became a kingdom when Dambanyika, established himself at Lwandali in 1688. He consolidated the kingdom and became the first Thovhele of the modern Venda society. This happened at a time when most, if not all, Black nations in the sub-continent were still living in scattered communities.
When the bantustan of Venda received nominal independence in 1973, their population stood at 200,000. Currently, there are about 3.5 million Venda speaking people in South Africa according to 2011 census whilst there are about 600,000 venda people in Zimbabwe.

                        Venda tribe old women from Zimbabwe in their traditional dress

The Vhavenda people are located on the North and West of Makhado in the Limpopo province of South Africa. The region they inhabit borders Zimbabwe and it is where the Shashe and Vhembe rivers meet. The word Vhavenda and Venda are used interchangeably when referring to the Vhavenda people, however the word Vhavenda better describes the people, whilst Venda refers more to the language. The Venda also lives in Zimbabwe near the border with South Africa. “The Venda traditionally occupy an area in and around the Soutpansberg Mountains in the northeastern section of South Africa's Northern Province, close to the borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe.”

                             Venda landscape

“Their new home is a beautiful place with fertile soil and rolling hills thickly wooded with forests of
subtropical wild fig and stinkhout trees and indigenous ferns and flowers. The mountain itself is often
shrouded in mist and whereas the surrounding countryside is hot and dry, the mountains receives an
annual rainfall of nearly 2,000 millimetres in places.”

                                     Largest Baobab tree in the world.Venda city of Limpopo
Attacks by marauders in the first part of the nineteenth century changed settlement patterns. Most chiefs and headmen relocated their villages from the low-lying regions to areas high on the mountain slopes, directly under cliffs.
Venda Homestead

For protective purposes the chief's residence was located at the highest point of the village under the cliffs, royal households were placed immediately in front, and the houses of the commoners spread out lower down and in front. This pattern continued well into the 1900s, when diminished hostilities and new forms of government administration allowed the return of villages to the valleys; the old ones under the cliffs gradually became deserted.
Venda homestead photographed at Mbilwe prior to 1928. Duggan-Cronin wrote: The work of cutting and erecting the poles of the hut is done by men, the plastering is done by women, as is the thatching. The little wall around the veranda is usually very skillfully ornamented, with various colours obtained from the different-coloured earths in the region. 

Villages are built around the musanda, or royal residence. Adjacent to the musanda is the public meeting place (khoro) where visitors are met and court meetings, dances, and other social events are held. Houses are traditionally wattle-and-daub constructions with thatched roofs. Several houses are linked together with mud brick walls and arranged around an open central courtyard with a central fireplace where the family sits in good weather. Traditionally, homesteads were partitioned off by hedgerows, wooden palisade fences, or stone walls. Most of the older settlements are reminiscent of miniature Great Zimbabwe ruins with their walls, stones steps, passageways, and terraces.

Modern building materials have replaced traditional ones in many instances. Customary homesteads are being replaced by houses of Western design, and settlement layout favors a grid system instead of the haphazard arrangement of the past. Most villages have access to electricity, piped water, and telephone communications.

Venda Language
The Venda language, TshiVenda or LuVenda, is a Bantu language. It emerged as a distinct dialect in the 16th Century. The majority of Venda speakers live in the northern part of South Africa's Limpopo Province, but about 10% of its speakers live in Zimbabwe. The Venda language is related to Kalanga (Western Shona, different from Shona, official language of Zimbabwe) which is spoken in Botswana and Zimbabwe. During the Apartheid era of South Africa, the bantustan of Venda was set up to cover the Venda speakers of South Africa.
Beautiful Venda woman in her traditional attire

In the 20th Century, the TshiVenda vocabulary was similar to SeSotho through association, but the grammar shares similarities with Shona dialects, which are spoken in Zimbabwe. Today about 875 000 people in South Africa speak Tshivenda. The Tshipani variety of Tshivenda is used as the standard.

The majority of Venda speakers live in South Africa, where "Venda" is an official government language, but there are also speakers in Zimbabwe. Before South Africa became a democratic country, the Bantustan of Venda was set up to cover the Venda speakers of South Africa. Throughout this area, variants of Tshivenda are spoken.
The Venda Language, spoken by about 6,00,000 Africans. As a result of inhabiting different regions, various dialects have evolved. This variation has also effected the customs and rituals, though the difference is not too conspicuous.
Tshiilafuri = Western Venda with traces of Sotho
Tshimanda = Central Venda, used by the Luonde and Lwamondo
Venda proper = found in Tshivhase and Mphaphuli's areas.
Tshimbedzi = Eastern Venda
Tshilembethu = North Eastern Venda
Extreme Eastern Venda = influenced by Karanga from Zimbabwe.
Tshironga = Southern Venda
South Eastern Venda = shows influence of Tonga and Sotho

 Here are some of Basic Venda words
Family                                                  (Muta)
Father                                                    Khotsi
Mother                                                   Mme
Brother                                                  Mukomana
Sister                                                    Khaladzi
Grand parents                                        Makhulu

Greeting                                               (U lumelisa)
Good morning                                        Ndi Matsheloni
Afternoon                                              Ndi masiari
Hello(Male)                                            Nnda!
Hello(Female)                                        Aa!

Day to day words                                  (Maipfi a duvha na duvha)

foods                                                    Zwiliwa
Water                                                   Madi
hunger                                                 Ndala(I am hungry-Ndi na ndala)
House                                                   Nndu
Gate                                                     Gethe
Love                                                     Lufuno(I love you- Ndi a ni funa)
Keep visiting                                          Ni dale hafhu

                                        Venda tribe elder
 The Venda of today are descendants of many heterogeneous groupings and clans such as:
Dzindou dza Vharundwa / Dza Mitshetoni /Dza Manenzhe
Masingo; and

Vhadau, Vhakwevho, Vhafamadi, Vhania, Vhangona, Vhalea, and Vhaluvhu were collectively known as Vhangona. The Vhangona and Vhambedzi are considered to be the original inhabitants of Venda.
The land of Vhangona was later settled by Karanga-Rodzvi clans from Zimbabwe: Vhatwanamba, Vhanyai, Vhatavhatsindi, and Vhalembethu. Masingo, Vhalaudzi, and Vhalemba are late arrivals in Venda.
According to one version of Vhangona oral history the capital of Vhangona was Mapungubwe with the Raphulu Royal House as the most senior royal house of the Vhangona. According to this version the Vhangona Kingdom had +-145 chiefdoms and a King (Thovhele). It is said that the Kingdom was divided into seven districts:
Tshamanyatsha; and
These districts were ruled by District Chiefs (Mahosi):
Mudzanani/Nesongozwi Dzanani);
Nembilwi (Mbilwi);
Netswime (Tswime);
Netshiendeulu (Tshiendeulu);
Netshakhuma (Tshakhuma);
Netshamanyatsha (Tshamanyantsha); and
Makhahani (Thulamela).
Each district had Vhamusanda (Junior Chiefs) who paid tribute to Mahosi. This tradition states that one of the Vhangona Kings was King Shiriyadenga whose royal kraal was at Mapungubwe. It is not clear if this Shiriyadenga is the same Shiriyedenga of the Sanga dynasty, a Karanga-Rodzvi branch. The Sanga dynasty, in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, was founded by Chiphaphami Shiriyedenga who died in 1672. Could it be that at one point the Karanga-Rodzvi Empire extended beyond the Vhembe (Limpopo) River, and that the
Vhangona, though not Karanga speaking, were at one point under Karanga-Rodzvi rule.

                                              Mapungubwe Hills

The other version of Vhangona history disputes that the Vhangona were ever united under one chief or King. It says that the Vhangona had different independent chiefdoms and that the Vhangona chief of Nzhelele valley was Tshidziwelele of the Mudau clan. What is clear, however, is that the Vhatwanamba, who were of Karanga-Rodzvi origin, conquered Vhangona clans who lived in Mapungubwe, Musina, Ha-Tshivhula, Ha-Lishivha, HaMatshete, Ha-Mulambwane, and Ha-Madzhie (the areas of Ha-Tshivhula, Ha-Lishivha, HaMatshete, and Ha-Mulambwane are known today as Alldays and Waterpoort).
One of the most interesting and distinct groups of people who later joined the Venda are the African Semites, the Lemba. They are believed to be the descendants of Semitic (Arab) traders who entered Africa around 696AD. The Lemba believe themselves to be Black Jews, descendants of the lost tribe of Israel. They keep to themselves, only marry within their own group and sometimes refer to themselves as Vhalungu, which means 'non-Negroid' or 'respected foreigner'.

                                               Venda man from Lemba tribe,Zimbabwe

The beads they brought with them from these far-off countries are still treasured to this day and are used in divination and other magical ceremonies. The Lemba were very good traders and artisans. They were also famous, for their metalwork and pottery. The first contact between the Venda and the whites occurred when the Voortrekker leader, Louis Trichardt came to the area in 1836.
Mapungubwe was the center of a kingdom with about 5000 people living at its center. Mapungubwe as a trade center lasted between 1030 and 1290 AD. The people of Mapungubwe mined and smelted copper, iron and gold, spun cotton, made glass and ceramics, grew millet and sorghum, and tended cattle, goats and sheep. The people of Mapungubwe had a sophisticated knowledge of the stars, and astronomy played a major role not only in their tradition and culture, but also in their day-to-day lives. Mapungubwe traded with ancient Ethiopia through the ports of Adulis on the Red Sea and the ports of Raphta (now Quelimani) and Zafara (now Sofala) in Mozambique.
Mapungubwe predates the settlements at Great Zimbabwe, Thulamela and Dzata. It is believed that that people left Mapungubwe for Great Zimbabwe because Great Zimbabwe was judged to have a more suitable climate.
From 800AD, the Mapungubwe Kingdom emerged, stretching from the Soutpansberg in the south, across the Limpopo River to the Matopos in the north. The Mapungubwe Kingdom declined from 1240, and the centre of power and trade moved north to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom.
A shifting of focus to Zimbabwe's Khami and Rozwi empires followed, but the culture did not come to a standstill. South of the Limpopo Shona-Venda and Venda pottery styles developed in the 14th and 15th Centuries. There are no stonewalled ruins comparable in size to Great Zimbabwe in the northeastern part of Northern Province, but those in the mountains show a link.
Accompanying the development of these centres, from about 1400, waves of Shona-speaking migrants from modern Zimbabwe (known by the Venda as Thavatsindi) settled across the Lowveld.
The Venda are generally regarded as one of the last black groups to have entered the area south of the Limpopo River. Their history is closely related to the history of their successive captains’ houses, especially those who were descended from their legendary ancestor, Thoho-ya-Ndou (Head of the Elephant).
Venda Young woman. Circa 1929

While some historical accounts have maintained that the Venda (also called theBaVenda) came from the Congo region, others insist that they migrated from the Great Lakes of Central Africa over a thousand years ago and moved towards the southern part of Africa (BERCD 1979:17). Venda history is complex and the subject of unending dispute among different parties and dynastic groups that inhabit the territory. Writing about the 1930s, Stayt argued that the Venda are ‘a composite people’ (Stayt 1968:9). Others have agreed with this view in the 1990s such as Loubser who contended that the Venda ‘do not see themselves as a culturally homogeneous or politically united nation’ (Loubser 1990:13;also see Ralushai 1977:46). Oral tradition suggests that most of the important migrations to the territory known today as Venda came from north of the Limpopo River in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Venda man. Circa 1929

 Among these migrations, two are particularly significant in thehistory of the area. The Vhatavhatsinde group arrived first, followed by the MaKhwinde from what is todayknown as southern Zimbabwe. Early ethnographers have showed that one of the major differences between the Vhatavhatsinde and other Venda groups is their method of disposing of the dead. While other groups bury their dead permanently, the Vhatavhatsinde exhume the corpse after several months and burn the bones in a ritual ceremony after which the ashes are scattered in specified rivers. The latter group (MaKhwinde) is said to have found the Ngona group ‘a non-warlike rather disorganized people, who allowed the invaders to settle peacefully among them’ (Stayt 1968:10). It is claimed that the Ngona are the original inhabitants of the territory. After their leader was subjugated by the Makhwinde invaders, the Ngona chief became a high priest of their deity and was frequently invited by their conquerors to serve as a medium between Ngona ancestral spirits and the MaKhwinde invaders.

                                Venda girls going to draw water. Circa 1928

According to Singo Venda traditionalists, this distant past is replete with supernatural events, starting when a pool within a mountain cave gave birth to their first king, Nwali. The legendary Singo king Dimbanyika, son of Nwali, migrated south from Zimbabwe and crossed the Limpopo River to conquer Venda-speaking chiefdoms in the Soutpansberg Mountains. By beating a magical drum, known as Ngoma-Lungundu, the early warrior king of the Singo generated a sound that killed those autochthonous Venda people who dared resist this invasion (Mudau 1940). Ngomalungundu. This was a sacred drum of Mwali (Mwari), the Great God of the Singo. Ngomalungundu was the spear and shield of the Singo. Their king is believed to have worked miracles with this drum which had magic and killing powers. In fear of Ngomalungundu, other groupings surrendered to or fled from the Singo killing powers. Through conquest the Vhangona came to revere and fear this greatest musical instrument. They regarded this drum as the Voice of their Great God, Raluvhimba, the Lord of all their ancestor spirits, the instrument of the Royal Ancestral spirits. By the late 19th century Vhavenda had to come to think of Raluvhimba and Mwali as interchangeable names for the same deity, although they had once been separate.
Mashovhela Rock Pool: (Mashovhela, “the place where the drums can be heard”, is the second-most-sacred place in Venda culture. This sacred site is still used occasionally by Sangomas in rain-making ceremonies, like a few years ago - shortly after which Venda had the heaviest rains and most devastating floods in living memory. According to Venda tradition the legendary and powerful Venda King, Thohoiyanda, had a mystical drum, Ngoma Lungundo, "drum of the dead". As his enemies approached, this drum was played and the foe just dropped dead.One night, King Thohoiyanda and the sacred drum mysteriously disappeared from his royal kraal. Neither were ever seen again. It was believed he disappeared into the Western Soutpansberg, where Mashovhela Lodge is situated. Tradition has it that it is this sacred drum that can sometimes be heard in the echoes from the rock cliffs of Mashovhela pool).

After the MaKhwinde migrated to Vendaland, led by their leader Dimbanyika, they soon dominated the entire country and settled at Tshieundeulu, where the  Vhatavhatsinde had established their capital. Dimbanyika placed his sons and other kinsmen as petty chiefs throughout the villages and gradually incorporated the other groups under his hegemony. Dimbanyika’s reign did not last long as he died in circa.1720, after subjugating the other groups.

Although the manner of his death is highly contentious among the Venda. Stayt and others maintain that the death of Dimbanyika is a favourite myth among the Venda. While some accounts hold that Phophi killed his father, others insist that Dimbanyika went hunting in a cave and while he was inside, a rock fell and covered the entrance, thereby entombing him alive.

Oral tradition holds that at the time of his death Dimbanyika had four adult sons of whom Phophi was the oldest. He had appointed them as petty chiefs in satellite villages: Phophi (Thohoyandou) ruled in Nzhelele, Tshisebe in Makonde, Tshivhase in Phiphidi, and Bele in Vuba. However, it is undisputed that Dimbanyika`s oldest son, Phophi, succeeded him and chose to call himself, Thoho-ya-ndou (Head of the Elephant) given that his father, the ‘elephant,’ had died. He then moved his capital to Dzata, which today is‘regarded as the ancestral home of the BaVenda’ (Stayt 1968:12).
 After Thohoyandou’s death the other brothers declared their villages independent of the capital. Loubser (1990) estimates that this event may have taken place between 1750 and 1800. Although Thohoyandou’s son, Tshikalanga was appointed to take over from his father, Venda was already disintegrating into several, autonomous chiefdoms. This fragmentation was exacerbated by the advent of European invaders and colonialists.
Of the several lines of descent of Dimbanyika, the Mphephu and Tshivhase are the most numerous and powerful. The Mphephu leadership traces its descent from Tshikalanga and has established its capital at Nzhelele where Thohoyandou had ruled before becoming the King of the Venda. Other chiefdoms that were recognised by the colonial and apartheid authorities are the chiefdoms of Senthumele, Khuthama and Rambuda. The Mphaphuli area is the third most populated Venda territory, though its history is shrouded in a web of complexity.
Stayt (1968) has described Thohoyandou’s reign as the golden age of the BaVenda. This is because all the chiefdoms were united under his leadership. But after his death, family disputes and ‘internecine warfare’ precipitated the disintegration and division of the kingdom. It is believed that the drum magical drum of the Singo royalty retained its magical properties as long as it was kept suspended above the ground. Singo hegemony over a vast area south of the Limpopo River crumbled when this drum accidentally touched the
ground during infighting between king Thoho-ya-Ndou and his brothers.
This catastrophic event in early Venda history is believed to have angered the ancestor spirits, including Nwali, so much that they withdrew from their everyday involvement in the affairs of the Singo royalty. The dropping of the drum, Thoho-ya-Ndou’s defeat in battle by the hands of his brothers, and his disappearance into Lake Fundudzi mark the termination of the supernatural period in Venda history
The Sacred Lake Fundudzi:  the most sacred spot of all in Venda Culture is the enchanted body of water known as Lake Fundudzi in the Thathe Vondo Forest, in Venda and is the home to the mythical python and white crocodile. Lake Fundudzi, the only natural lake of its kind in South Africa, was originally formed by a landslide, according to scientists. But the local people see it in a far more mysterious way. They'll point out that three rivers flow into the lake, yet it never overflows and there is no obvious outlet.

The rivalry that followed King Thohoyandou’s death led to the division of the Venda kingdom into three different kingdoms and numerous independent chiefdoms. The three kingdoms were Ramabulana with its base at Tshirululuni (present day Makhado town), Tshivhase with its base at Dopeni and later Phiphidi, and Ravhura with its base at Makonde. The Mphaphuli and Rambuda houses later split from the Tshivhase house and founded their own dynasties with their bases at Tshitomboni and Dzimauli respectively.
Historians believe that the geography of Venda was not in favour of unity and that the temptation for Ravhura and Tshivhase houses to convert autonomy into independence must have been too strong. The Singo rulers had tried to counterbalance the temptation by favouring certain houses that could not succeed to the supreme title, such as the Ndalamo and Mphaphuli.
Thohoyandou’s sons were Mandiwana, Munzhedzi, and Ratombo. Munzhedzi became the new king of Ha-Ramabulana and ruled from Tshirululuni. Mandiwana settled in the Nzhelele valley, while Ratombo settled at Ha-Ratombo in the Luvuvhu valley. Both Mandiwana and Ratombo paid tribute to their brother, Munzhedzi. Raluswielo, Thohoyandou’s brother, also known as Tshivhasa Midiyavhathu, established a dynasty known as Ha-Tshivhasa. It is not clear when the Mphaphuli house split from the Tshivhase house. It is, however, important to mention that the Mphaphulis dispute that they were once ruled by the Tshivhases, while the Tshivhases insist that the Mphaphulis used to herd their cattle.
Ravhura established his dynasty in the Mutale valley with its base at Makonde. It is, however, not clear whether the Vhandalamo of Ha-Tshikundamalema and Vhalembethu of Ha-Mutele and Thulamela were under Ravhura. Today Makonde is part of Ha-Tshivhasa.
 The Tshivhase dynasty, which has dominated the eastern section of the Venda territory. After the death of his older brother Thohoyandou, Tshivhase declared himself independent. He became a wealthy and powerful chief and was succeeded by his son, Mukesi Tshivhase. Stayt (1968:16) contends that Mukesi’s reign was marked by frequent skirmishes with his neighbours, especially Chief Mphaphuli, an independent chief living close to him. When Mukesi died, he was succeeded by his son Legegisa, who moved his capital from Miluwani to Mukumbani - the present Tshivhase capital. His son, Ramaremisa Tshivhase succeeded him and was in turn succeeded by Ratshimphi Tshivhase (circa 1931).
Ratshimphi was a powerful and wealthy chief who is, until the present, a legendary figure among the Tshivhase people. Local accounts hold that he resisted Boer encroachment into his territory so resolutely that it cost him his life. Some people maintain that during his reign Ratshimphi joined the Communist Party in the 1930s, and was arrested by the state for fear that he would turn his chiefdom into a communist stronghold. He was incarcerated in Pretoria where he died in 1946 and was succeeded by Thohoyandou Tshivhase, the father of the present chief, Kennedy Tshivhase.
Modern local government began in Venda in 1913, when the government of the Union of South Africa demarcated specific territories as ‘reserves’ for black people. The Native Affairs Act, 23 of 1920 provided for the establishment of local councils and a Native Commission to advise the South African government on issues that affected black people. The most significant legislation was the Bantu Authorities Act 68 of 1951, which provided for the creation of ‘tribal’, regional and territorial authorities. As a result of this Act, 25 tribal authorities, three regional authorities and one territorial authority were established in the Venda area (BERCD 1979:41).

                       Phiphidi Waterfalls: Phiphidi village, Ha-Tshivhasa

Given its obsession with ethnic difference, the apartheid government emphasised that each ethnic group or people was endowed with the inalienable right to become self-governing in its own territory and to mark out the path of its own historical destiny. In the light of this ideology, the Venda were recognised not only as distinct from non-Venda, but also as a single people, or ‘volk’, which should commence the process of becoming an entity with its own territorial state. This led to the formation of the Thohoyandou Territorial Authority in 1962 headed by Chief Patrick Mphephu. According to this development, two or more members represented each of the 25 tribal authorities in a regional authority, one of whom was the chief or headman. The regional authorities were represented in the Territorial Authority by their chairmen and other members depending on population size and the number of taxpayers (BERCD 1979:42).

After the issuing of proclamation R.168 of 20 June 1969, the Thohoyandou Territorial Authority became known as the Venda Territorial Authority. This led to several changes in the form of representation. Each tribal authority was represented at the Territorial Authority by its chief or chairman and another member, elected by the tribal authority from among its councillors. The Territorial Authority was also granted more powers to conduct its own affairs with less direct control from the South African government. This development was further strengthened in June 1971 when the Black States Constitution Act No. 21 was passed. This Act provided for the creation of so-called Legislative Assemblies, one of which was constituted in Venda in February 1973, thereby making Venda a ‘self-governing territory’. The legislative assembly was made up of 60 members, 42 of whom had to be traditional leaders. The remaining 18 were elected by the residents of Venda as well as Venda citizens who were resident outside Venda territory. Eventually in 1979 Venda received ‘independence’ from the Republic of South Africa but the international community refused to recognise this new status (BERCD 1979:42).
Of the 25 tribal authorities that make up Venda, Tshivhase is the most populated and largest in land area. This notwithstanding, there is an on-going contestation among the 25 tribal authorities (each of which constitutes a separate chiefdom), especially between the Mphephu and Tshivhase chiefdoms, which are, in genealogical terms, the ‘senior’ Venda chiefdoms. Although the Tshivhase still engage in some degree of rivalry with the neighbouring Mphaphuli chiefdom, the relationship between the two is less contentious that that between Tshivhase and Mphephu.
One of the reasons for this rivalry is that the Tshivase perceive the Mphephu as having been more accommodating to the colonisers than they were. This is a referenceboth to the Mphephu role in the wars
against the Boers between 1867 and 1899 and to their collaboration with the apartheid regime. The Tshivhase also perceive the Mphephu group as more ‘acculturated’ owing to their geographical proximity to the white settlements of Louis Trichardt and Schoemansdal. In particular the Tshivhase resent the fact that Patrick Mphephu lorded it over their chiefdom in his attempt to revive the Venda kingdom during the homeland period. The last factor should be taken into account in order to understand current chiefdom politics in Venda. The Tshivhase continue to see themselves as the ‘embodiment’ of the fighting spirit of the Venda as expressed in their name - Tshivhase, meaning ‘one who burned and conquered the houses of the others’. The relative wealth and prestige of the Tshivhase chiefs also contributed significantly to this perception that the Tshivhase were the most powerful Venda chiefs. To add to this catalogue is the claim that the grandfather of the present chief was a staunch member of the Communist Party and had personally known Nelson Mandela in the 1940s prior to his death as a captive of the state. The Tshivhase therefore claim a legacy of association with resistance and liberation, although some historians have disputed this.
It is probable that the main obstacle to Mphephu’s dream of extending his hegemony beyond his chiefdom was the reputation and power of the Tshivhase chiefs. It is therefore likely that the sudden death of Chief Thohoyandou Tshivhase in 1966 played in Mphephu’s favour. Although Kennedy Tshivhase was installed in 1970 as heir to the throne of the Tshivhase, his uncle, John Tshivhase was put in place as regent until it was deemed appropriate for Kennedy Tshivhase to assume effective office.
In 1979 Venda became a so-called independent state and was known as the Republic of Venda. Thovhele Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana was elected the first president of the Republic of Venda. This Banana Republic was, however, only recognised by its creators, apartheid South Africa, and fellow banana republics: Transkei, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei.
Between 1970 and 1990, Kennedy Tshivhase stayed with his mother and attended school in Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg). While he was away from the chiefdom, major developments took place that changed the landscape of politics in Venda. The most important of these was the independence of Venda in 1979 under the leadership of Chief Patrick Mphephu. Mphephu was a shrewd politician who collaborated closely with the apartheid regime in Pretoria. His Venda National Party (VNP) dominated the political scene in Venda, leaving the Venda Independence People’s Party (VIPP) in permanent opposition. During the 1980s, Patrick Mphephu co-opted almost all the major chiefs in the other dynasties including John Tshivhase, the Regent of the Tshivhase chiefdom. Chief Mphephu declared himself president for life of the Republic of Venda. It was popularly believed that he also nursed the ambition of reuniting the entire Venda territory as a kingdom under his leadership. But he favoured the recruitment of his Mphephu subjects into the civil service and it was rumoured that people from other chiefdoms, especially the Tshivhase, were discriminated against. But such discrimination was concealed by the co-optation of influential members of the Tshivhase royal family into his government. One of themwas Kennedy Tshivhase’s uncle, A. A. Tshivhase, who was appointed to a key ministerial post in Mphephu’s government. A. A. Tshivhase had opposed Kennedy’s selection as heir to the throne of Tshivhase. By virtue of his influential post in the government, he became the dominant political figure in the Tshivhase family, choosing which direction the family was to follow. During election periods, the Tshivhase Tribal Authority, headed by John Tshivhase, used to campaign for the VNP. Following his death in 1989, Patrick Mphephu was succeeded as President of Venda by Khosi Nndwakhulu Frank Ravele of Mauluma, a close kinsman and ally.
Ravele took over power at a time when there was increasing demand for an end to apartheid rule and the abandonment of the homelands. The rise of civic associations in villages, advocating an end to the home land system, had enormous impact on the stability of the government in Venda. In 1989 - 1990 witchcraft accusations and murders became the order of the day in Venda, and Ravele’s failure to quell the murders or maintain peace triggered a general sense of anger. Furthermore, his failure to pay civil servants and his poor management of the state led to a military coup in 1990, led by Brigadier Gabriel Ramushwana.
 In the early 1990s, the Tshivhase Royal Council was divided into two camps: those who supported Kennedy’s right to the throne and those who ardently opposed it. The influence of the notorious A. A. Tshivhase, the
Regent and his close allies embarked on a campaign to distort history, and present Kennedy Tshivhase as an upstart who desired to usurp power from the elders through unorthodox means. A significant number of
headmen opposed Kennedy Tshivhase’s claim to the throne, especially those who owed their position to the apartheid system and the Venda government in particular.
Meanwhile, although Kennedy Tshivhase did not publicly identify himself with the ANC, he was known among the youth and the civics as the legitimate heir to the throne and a comrade. Those who supported his return made strenuous efforts to spread the notion that Kennedy was simply reclaiming what was rightfully his.  A photograph of the 1970 installation was available to prove that there had been no distortion of historical fact. When he eventually won the legal suit against his uncle and assumed office in 1993, popular conjecture about his political affiliation was confirmed. Both the military leader, Gabriel Ramushwana and the ANC stalwart,
Walter Sisulu were conspicuously present at his installation in Mukumbani. Sisulu was given an opportunity to address the people. By 1993 it became clear that Chief Kennedy Tshivhase was an ANC member who had played his cards cleverly in the1980s.
Contrary to expectations that he would seek to depose the headmen who had opposed his struggle for the throne, he called instead for peace and unity among the Tshivhase people. He also appealed to the divided Royal Council to bury the hatchet and unite to build a strong chiefdom.
Kennedy Tshivhase also extended a hand of reconciliation to the Mphephu dynasty. Kennedy Tshivhase was quite friendly with Dimbanyika Mphephu, Patrick’s successor as chief. This did not stop him launching a legal suit to reclaim a number of Tshivhase villages that had been incorporated into the Mphephu territory during Patrick Mpephu’s presidency. When Dimbanyika Mphephu died in a car accident in 1998, Chief Tshivhase participated actively at the funeral and delivered a speech. He disapproved of Dimbanyika’s successor, however, and this has strained relations between the two major Venda dynasties once more.
Towns and major centres found in Venda include Makhado (former Louis Trichardt), ElimMpheni, Vuwani, Dzanani (Tshituni), Musina, Tshipise, Thohoyandou, Shayandima, Sibasa, Masisi, Tshikondeni, and Tshilamba.
Beautiful Venda girl

Venda's economy is reportedly dependent on agriculture and forestry but the majority of the people, seventy per cent, work within South Africa. Most households in the villages maintain gardens during the summer months to grow the staple crop, maize. Other crops include pumpkins, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, sorghum, and finger millet, with the latter two grains frequently used to make beer.

Vegetable gourds (marankas) are grown for use as containers, scoops, or spoons. Communal land, which is held in trust by chiefs and headmen, may be used for summer crop production if permission is given. After the first and subsequent rains, women gather the new leaves and flowers of certain plants to be used as a vegetable relish (maroho). There are fruit trees in most gardens; the most commonly grown fruits are mangoes, papayas, avocados, bananas, and plantains. The Venda may have been primarily herders in the past. During the 20th century their cattle holdings—especially the herds of their chiefs—increased from a few to an appreciable number; they also keep goats, sheep, pigs, and fowl. Venda also has rich deposits of coal, fertile soils and plenty of rainfall. Cattle ranching and production of sub-tropical fruit are reported to be areas of high economic potential.
Commercial Activities. Commercial irrigation farms have developed on a small to medium scale along many of the rivers; on those farms, vegetables are grown and orchards of mangoes, avocados, litchis, and citrus flourish. Tea is well suited to the climate and soils of the eastern mist belt of the Soutpansberg Mountains, and around 2,200,000 pounds (1 million kilograms) of tea is produced annually for blending with imported Ceylon teas. Informal markets exist in the main towns and along the major roads where women sell fruit and vegetables that are produced in Venda or come from the neighboring Levubu commercial farms. Animal husbandry was traditionally limited but is on the increase, with many royal families building up large herds of cattle and goats.

Tourism is becoming a major currency earner, and the unique culture of the Venda and the beautiful scenery are attracting many overseas visitors. The early Zimbabwe-style stone-walled archaeological sites are particularly popular with tourists.

Industrial Arts
 Woodcarving, traditional pottery, baskets, and beadwork are the main Venda handicrafts and are sold locally to tourists or sent to the major cities in South Africa, where there are large markets for these items.
Venda art

Mat weaving by hand using traditional motifs is commercially practiced. The traditional brightly colored clothing of Venda women has become a home industry in many villages.
Venda Pottery work

Division of Labor
 As a general rule, women work with clay and soil and men work with animals and wood, but there are exceptions, such as women collecting firewood as part of their domestic duties. Hand hoeing of land in preparation for planting and keeping the land clear of weeds are the work of women, but in commercial operations the mechanical preparation of land by means of cattle-drawn plows or tractors is a man's job, as is crop spraying.

Land Tenure
 All land is communal under the trusteeship of the chief, who allocates the use of land in the interests of his community. The fact that these chiefs do not have title deeds to the land that they traditionally claim has led the government to state that such communal land is state-owned and that the state need not pay royalties to the chief and his community for using resources on communal property.

Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is unilineal through the male line, with one complicated and rare exception: In cases where a woman has married a wife or wives and children are born (fathered by the spouse's husband or other men she has allowed to sleep with her wives), technically, descent is on the female side. However, in practice the spouse is metaphorically seen as the "husband" because she married the wives and thus is addressed as "father" by the children; descent therefore is still on the "male" side.

                                               Venda kids

Marriage and Family

                                  Venda groom and his bride

 Cross-cousin marriages are preferred but not compulsory, and a young man's choice of a wife may differ from that of his parents. If a girl vehemently dislikes the man to whom she is betrothed, subject to the consent of the man, the betrothal may be broken and other arrangements made. Bargaining, usually through a third person, about the bride-price and marriage arrangements can take a long time.

With more young persons moving to the major industrial towns and cities, traditional marriage practices are diminishing, with young men and women marrying for love. Cross-cultural marriages have become more common.
Beautiful Venda lady

Polygyny is practiced; the number of wives depends on the wealth and status of the husband. The higher a man's traditional status is, the more wives he can marry. Chiefs and headmen generally are wealthier than commoners, and for them caring for multiple wives is seldom a problem, with headmen having up to six wives and chiefs being entitled to many more. A wealthy commoner may marry more than one wife, as tends to occur with businessmen. Men past the age of fifty frequently take a young woman as a wife to bear children and take care of them in their old age.
Venda women in their wedding attire

An unusual form of marriage occurs when a wealthy woman, normally a headwoman, marries a wife or wives. She usually is already married to a man. Her husband or other chosen men may be the biological fathers of the children who are born, but metaphorically she is the "father" of those children. The children must address her as "father," while her biological children call her their mother.

A new wife is expected to live with her mother-in-law, who teaches her about her husband's likes and dislikes and his family. This continues until the birth of the first child, when she moves into her own house close by. Marital residence thus is patrilocal.

                                    Venda married women

Domestic Unit
 A household has one wife and her offspring, who share a single hearth and eat together. In polygynous marriages each wife is given her own house and courtyard, which is physically separate from those of the other wives. The husband has his own sleeping area (pfamo), which is usually adjacent to the household of the senior wife, who keeps order among the other wives. The husband's relatives generally live in the surrounding homesteads, and this system gives children access to their aunts and uncles.

 Traditionally, all land is communal, under the trusteeship of the chief. However, every man has indisputable rights to the land he occupies and uses. His sons are entitled to the use of his land but may also ask the local headman to allocate fresh portions of land. Movable property—livestock, household utensils, and the proceeds of agriculture and trade—passes to the oldest son or, in the case of a polygynous marriage, the oldest son of the senior wife. This son becomes the undisputed head of the family unless he has disgraced himself in the eyes of the family, in which case the son next in line is appointed by the deceased's oldest sister with the consent of his brothers.

A woman may possess property, normally the surplus proceeds of her labors, and may dispose of it freely. Usually in the case of her death, her youngest son inherits. In a polygynous marriage, if the senior wife does not have a male heir, the oldest daughter is recognized as the legal heir but may not become the head of the family; that duty usually passes to her late father's oldest surviving brother. An exception to this practice occurs when a woman marries wives and no male heir is born; then the oldest daughter becomes the head of that family. Brothers may inherit the wives of a deceased man.
Beautiful Venda ladies from South Africa

 Infants and children are looked after by their parents and grandparents as well as by uncles and aunts who frequently assume the duties of parents in loco. Children frequently refer to these relatives as their father and mother. Children are introduced to responsibility and preparation for their later roles in life at an early age, with boys being sent out to herd goats at about the age of five and girls accompanying their mothers or aunts to collect water or firewood or caring for their baby brothers or sisters while the mother is working on the land. There is always sufficient time for play after the allotted tasks are correctly done. Corporal punishment is rare.

Sociopolitical Organization
Social Organization. Positions of traditional leadership are hereditary, passing normally from the father to the oldest son of the senior wife. At the death of the father, it is the duty of his oldest sister (makhadzi) to introduce the heir to the family or suggest a new heir if that son proves to be incapable. If the heir is too young to become the head of the family, she fulfills that role as a regent.
Venda people

The makhadzi of a royal family is frequently one of the main advisers to her brother, the chief. She may act as a regent in his absence or after his death. Her participation in many of the traditional rituals is essential for the well-being and prosperity of the community. For many activities, the chief's younger brother or oldest surviving uncle may appear on his behalf.
Venda woman

Access to chiefs by those who are not family members is normally difficult, and persons with problems have to work their way through a hierarchy of counselors before being granted an audience with the chief. This is a remnant of the system used to guard divine leaders in the past.

Political Organization
 After 1910 Venda was governed by the central government of the Union of South Africa (later the Republic of South Africa) under a system of commissioners until it received independence from the South African government in September 1979. Independence was rescinded in 1994, when all homelands and independent states created by the apartheid government became part of the democratically elected government of South Africa.

Venda is divided into thirty-two chieftaincies with different status levels, of which several are disputed, with these chieftaincies having been created in the past for political expediency and the smoother running of an "independent" Venda. Traditionally, the status levels were paramount chief (khosikhulu), senior chiefs, petty chiefs, and headmen. During the black liberation struggle and particularly since the late 1980s, traditional leadership has been undermined by resistance organizations, because traditional leaders were considered puppets of the white nationalist government. Civic organizations developed in many towns and villages and ruled through intimidation. In the early twenty-first century a system of mutual tolerance is maintained between Venda traditional leaders and civic organizations. Villages and towns have been combined to form local councils to deal with issues relating to local government.

Social Control
 In the past persons involved in antisocial activities were taken to the court of the headman for minor infringements or to the court of the chief for serious issues, where usually a fine would be imposed. The size of the fine depended on the seriousness of the transgression as well as the numbers of previous offences committed by the accused. Witchcraft usually was punished by death, and murder by banishment or death. When the accused was pronounced innocent, the plaintiff would be fined.

As the concepts of Roman-Dutch law became entrenched in Venda society, many issues were no longer taken to traditional courts but instead were reported to the police. Today a person accused of a serious crime is apprehended, imprisoned, brought to trial, and sentenced, usually with a term of imprisonment. Judicial courts are becoming more sympathetic toward common law, and judgments may be based on fundamental traditional norms and values rather than purely on Roman-Dutch law.

                                                 Venda women in their traditional outfit

 Although there is evidence of internecine warfare in the past, physical conflict between clans no longer occurs. However, people seen as opponents have been killed under the guise of ritual murder. Between 1820 and 1850 many raids by BaPedi (Sotho), Swazi, and Zulu marauders took place. The coming of the first white colonialists was met with resistance, including the burning of the first white town in the Soutpansberg region in 1867. Further clashes with traders and government administrators continued until around 1900. Since 1994 many Vhavenda have been dissatisfied with the activities of the predominantly Sotho government of the Northern Province, and periodically talk of creating a separate province occurs.

Religious Belief
Unlike many ethnic groups, the Venda race has mostly retained retained their original native religion and thrived on indigenous customs and traditions to lead a close knit community life. The Venda people believe in a supreme or high God called RALUVHIMBA.The name is composed of the prefix Ra-, which is honorific and perhaps connected with the idea of 'Father'; luvhimba is the eagle, the bird that soars aloft. It symbolizes the great power which travels through the cosmos, using the heavenly phenomena as its instruments.
Venda Sangoma initiation sacrifice to Raluvhimba

'Raluvhimba is connected with the beginning of the world and is supposed to live somewhere in the heavens and to be connected with all astronomical and physical phenomena. . . . A shooting star is Raluvhimba traveling; his voice is heard in the thunder; comets, lightning, meteors, earthquakes, prolonged drought, floods, pests, and epidemics- in fact, all the natural phenomena which affect the people as a whole- are revelations of the great god. In thunderstorms he appears as a great fire near the chief's kraal, whence he booms his desires to the chief in a voice of thunder; this fire always disappears before any person can reach it. At these visitations the chief enters the hut and, addressing Raluvhimba as Makhalu [Grandfather], converses with him, the voice of god replying either from the thatch of the hut or from a tree nearby; Raluvhimba then passes on in further clap of thunder. Occasionally he is angry with the chief and takes revenge on the people by sending them a drought or a flood, or possibly by opening an enormous cage in the heavens and letting loose a swarm of locusts on the land.' (H.A. Stayt, The Bavenda, Oxford, 1931, p.236)
Raluvhimba, it is said, was wont to manifest himself by appearing from time to time as a great flame on a platform of rock above a certain cave. With the flame there came a sound as of clanking irons on hearing which the people shouted with joy and their cries passed on throughout the country. The Chief mounted to the platform where he called upon Raluvhimba, thanked him for revealing himself and prayed on behalf of his people for rain, felicity and peace.

He is at times greeted spontaneously by the whole people in a way that is most unusual amongst the southern Bantu. The Rev. G. Westphal of the Berlin Mission relates that in 1917 a meteor burst in the middle of the day making a strange humming sound followed by a thunder-like crash. This portent was greeted by the people, not with terror but with cries of joy. Another Missionary, the Rev. McDonald, tells how after a slight tremor of the earth the was an extraordinary clamour among the people, the lululuing of women, clapping of hands and shouting 'The whole tribe was greeting Raluvhimba who was passing through the country.' People say that during an earthquake they hear a noise in the sky similar to thunder. Then they clap their hands to welcome the mysterious god and pray: 'Give us rain! Give us health.'
Dr H.A. Junod says that Raluvhimba is regarded as the maker and former of everything and as the rain-giver. If rain is scarce and starvation threatens, people complain: 'Raluvhimba wants to destroy us,' they say the same if floods spoil their fields. Prayers and sacrifices are offered in times of drought. There is some notion of Raluvhimba as Providence. He takes care no only of the tribe as a whole but of individual members. When a man has narrowly escaped drowning he will say: 'I have been save by Raluvhimba, Mudzimu.'
Raluvhimba is identified with Mwari (or Nwali) whose earthly abode (like Yahwe's on Mount Sinai) is in the Matopo Hills of Southern Rhodesia. Every year the Venda used to send a special messenger (whose office was hereditary) with a black ox and a piece of black cloth as an offering to Mwari. The black ox was set free in the forest to join the god's large herd which had accumulated there.
They also believe zwidutwane, (water spirits), which live at the bottom of waterfalls. These beings are only half-visible; they have only one eye, one leg, and one arm. One half can be seen in this world and the other half in the spirit world. The Venda would take offerings of food to them because the zwidutwane cannot grow things underwater.
For the average person, good or ill fortune, including sickness, often is controlled by his or her immediate ancestors. When there is trouble or an unexplained death in the family, a diviner (mungome) is consulted, the magical divining dice are thrown, and a prognosis is made. In many cases the interpretation will be that one of the ancestors must be appeased, usually through the ritual sacrifice of a black goat for commoners or a sheep for royals at the grave of the troublesome ancestor.
Beautiful Venda Sangoma dress

A mungome uses an intricately carved wooden divining bowl (ndilo) to discover witches. Belief in witchcraft is very prevalent even among the educated, and although the killing of witches is considered murder, it occurs regularly. When the diviner is unsuccessful, a witch doctor (nanga) is consulted. Such witch doctors are thought to have magical powers in addition to divining skills and can place spells on people, who believe that they can die unless they are cleansed by the nanga who cast the original spell.

 Ceremonies usually are accompanied by chanting, singing, music, and dancing. Rites of passage are important, particularly the passage from childhood into adulthood. They are conducted as a series of initiation ceremonies at the age of puberty for boys and girls. Such ceremonies are separate, except for the final one, the domba, in which the sexes come together for certain rituals. Births, marriages, and funerals are ceremonial occasions involving families, but there also are ceremonies to ensure the fertility of the land, good harvests, good rains, and the well-being of Vhavenda society. The female initiation and rite of passage has similar cultural meaning to musevhetho and murundu within the Vha-Venda culture. Murundu is circumcision rites for boys. In some other areas it is called mula/hogo. The Vha-Venda people reported that this ceremony is attended by ordinary people not members of the royal family. It is said that the first person to be admitted is the son of the traditional doctor in charge of it. The reason why members of the royal family do not attend is because it is seen as having the Vhalemba origin.

Boys Initiation: The Thondo - Morundu Initiation School:
 Two distinctly different initiation schools existed in Venda. The Thondo is the older of the two, which each Venda boy should pass through to attain manhood. Elaborate ritual governed the setting up, building and maintenance of the school, under the dictates of a traditional healer. It was a highly secret school where boys were trained in the self discipline, endurance, manners and tribal etiquette.
Venda boy initiates

 Venda boys were circumcised at the Murundu or Morundu initiation school. The murundu circumcision is considered to be preparatory stage for boys to manhood and perceived as a preventative measure against sexually transmitted diseases. Murundu is hosted during winter in the bush far from the village. Milubi, (2000), states that boys at murunduni are taught certain behavioural expectations that the society will have on them as adult men. It is said that after boys have been circumcised, the elders tell them that they have sharpened the “spear” (spear refers to circumcised penis) and with the spear they would be able to strike the “thulo”/girl. This means that such a boy has permission to have sexual intercourse. This is understood as a way of preparing initiates for the future.
Vhahwira - Muwhira: Circumcision and vhahwira costumes were introduced by the North Sotho, which include the Ba Roka and Lobedu.


                   ex / Potcheftroom - J. Witt Collection                               A. M. Duggan-Cronin - Circa 1928
The photograph to the above right was taken by Duggan-Cronin. He wrote: These Vhahwira are in the Thondo school, which is a continuation of the Morundu or circumcision school. Their very effective disguise is composed of a series of grass mats wrapped round them. One is carrying a typical old-fashioned Venda battle-axe.
The costume to the left represents the same supernatural Vhahwira, who is known as the recruiter. Deaf and dumb, he communicates by whistling and swishing a wand. The character is made up of reeds and body parts of hawks, owls and hammerhead birds. It was collected in the Sekororo Area by J. Witt during the early 1960's. Later it became the property of the Potchefstroom University Collection. Few examples are known, as these were often burned at the end of Thondo.

Musevhetho is the initiation rite for girls that initiates a girl from a baby to the stage of puberty (i.e., before the girl starts menstruating) (Milubi, 2000). This rite is referred to as “u kwevha”, it involves elongation of the girls’ labia minora, which is sometimes called sungwi, and said to be equivalent to the murundu. Musevhetho initiation comes from the Bapedi tribe wherein the girl should perform the exercise of labia minora. The role of this initiation school among the Tsonga or Shangaan, according to Xitlhabana, cited in Milubi (2000), is referred to as “mileve” (i.e. sexual appetizer). This is said to harness men into a fulfilling relationship.
Domba initiate dance

Women who have elongated labia minora are perceived and perceive themselves as having attained a higher level than those who have not. They perceive themselves as having an advantage of acquiring marriage and can sexually satisfy men better than those who have not elongated. Thus, those who have not elongated are always ridiculed by those who have elongated by calling them names such as shuvhuru, master-mistress and also through the usage of generic terminology (Milubi, 2000).

According to Stayt (1968), musevhetho has been introduced into Vha-Venda by the neighbouring Basotho, where it is called ‘mula’. The musevhetho is very popular among a small section of the people; particularly where vhusha or circumcision has the strongest influence in educating young girls and boys regarding the culture. Musevhetho is believed to play an important role in reducing early sexual engagement amongst young girls and boys (informant). For example, girls who are not virgins are ostracized at ‘musevhetho’ initiation school. The practice is believed to encourage girls to abstain from sex and discourage girls not to lose their virginity before marriage. At these schools, girls’ virginity status is checked by the older women (vhomazwale). Musevhetho is believed to play an important role in preventing unplanned teenage pregnancies.

South Africa, Venda, June 2001. Young "maidens" take part in the Domba dance. The domba is part of an initiation process, some already have children though traditionally they are meant to be virgins

The most important part of the proceedings is the operation, which all the initiates must undergo. It is said by Vha-Venda people that children of all ages must attend and quite young children are brought to the ceremony by their mothers. The functions are held in a small hut outside the village known as ‘nonyana’, which is the spirit of the ‘musevhetho’. The boys are sent all around and dance to perform antics for the amusement of the people. This is a fascinating event, because these boys never speak to any person, but carry on all communications between each other and not with those who did not graduate from the
ceremony (Stayt, 1968).
Venda girl. Circa 1928

According to Stayt (1968), the girls often attend at nonyana’s hut for a day and a night. They will see the spirit and be returned to their homes until they are considered to be enough initiates to warrant the operation. On the appointed day, they are taken to a secluded place on the river bank, where an old woman performs the operation of cutting the clitoris. At the same time, the girls are branded with a mark on the outside of the thigh. The brand is like two inverted U’s joined together or sometimes it may be two round dots. The brand is seen as a password for the initiate to have access to attend when these ceremonies are taking place. Without being questioned if a person qualifies for entry, the brand serves as a proof for the possessor that she has undergone the operation.
Venda initiates

Hali, Sangiwi (female circumcision)
The circumcision rite for girls is called by the Vha-Venda people as “Hali,Sungwi.” Female genital mutilation may be in the form of surgical removal of the clitoris called clitoridectomy. The procedures were once commonly referred to as female circumcision (FC) and are said to be now dominant throughout the international community.
After the circumcision ceremonies at the river, the girls should proceed to the kraal of the headman who has sanctioned the proceedings. Hence, the girls are given permission to socialise with the boys who went through murundu. The feast begins where dancing and singing; with beer drinking; feasting and sexual licence continues for a fortnight. After the festival, the girls are taken to the river bank and smothered with fat and red-ochre, and brought again to the kraal for a few days to rest, but later return to the river where they are
washed, except the brand. The initiates mentoring the initiands would accompany the girls to their respective homes where the celebration continues (Stayt, 1968). The senior elders are elders who represent tradition and wisdom of the past and their role is to teach and train the initiates (responsible for the initiation ritual).
Stayt (1968), states that the Vha-Venda transitional period supplements the teachings of the “vhutambo” “vhutuka and the vhusha for socializing girls and women. It is said that those who have taken part are full members of the tribe and are fully prepared for immediate marriage. However, the final act of these ceremonies is identical. All end with the washing at the river, combined with the cutting of hair and fresh adornment of the body. In this way, it is perceived as a graduation of the severance between the old status and the new status.

Girls Initiation – “There are three phases of initiation for Venda girls; Vhusha,
Tshikanda, and the Domba.

                                    Circa 1949 Domba initiation school. - Barbara Tyrrell / Peter Jurgens

Vhusha: Vhusha is the initiation for girls. The ceremony is sanctioned by the royal family, because it is seen as the first initiation ceremony because it is held at the royal place, unlike musevhetho, which is attended by the commoners/vhasiwana. Stayt (1968) states this is one of the ceremonies that is attended by grown up females or matured girls. This ceremony takes place during winter and summer and during the school holidays. The VhaVenda girls are expected to attend in order to learn good manners and regain their identity
(Jeannerat, 1997).
Vhusha was attended as soon as possible after a girl’s first menstruation and then Tshikanda and Domba shortly before they were married. It could be held several times a year in the head-quarters of any district headman, but Tshikanda and Domba were held only at intervals of three to five years at the head-quarters of chiefs and certain senior headman and for girls of several districts. At Vhusha, girls were introduced to the secret milayo laws, meant to prepare them for their future roles as wives and mothers.”
Tshikanda: According to Stayt (1931) and Van Warmelo (1932), tshikanda is part of the domba premarital initiation school for boys and girls, which takes place shortly before domba. The ceremony lasts for one night at the beginning of domba. The ceremony is performed to provide the girls of the ruling families the opportunity to learn certain songs and dances.Considerable time was spent practicing ndayo exercises.

Ndayo is a dance, but more of a  physical exercise, there to make the girls suffer and honour the old ones. The movements reinforce the pattern of seniority. Dances are also employed in the treatment of people with certain conditions such as demon possession. This dance usually takes place in the courtyard of the king, who often supplies the musical instruments. During the initiation, the girls spend the whole week with "luvhundi” all over their bodies and do not wash, even when they eat.

Domba: The domba is a pre-marital initiation. The preparations are made by the families for the girls to be ready and to prepare what is necessary to attend the ceremony. Entrance fee is paid before the girl’s admission.

 The Vha-Venda people believe that the ceremony has deep meanings, and it is not possible to witness what is happening within (teaching, ritual performance and bath) since it is a secret ceremony.
Historically, girls used to stay with the chief for the entire duration of the initiation school, which ranged between 3 months to 3 years. Nowadays girls only spend weekends at the ruler’s kraal, due to schooling.

The Vha-Venda people believe that “domba” opens the door to full participation in the society. Seniority of age is an important principle amongst the Vha-Venda social organization, and as women grow older they become more powerful, respected and play a leading role in rituals and ceremonies, and are given a status as, “mme a domba” (the mother of the ceremony). Many people are of the opinion that domba should be ‘set up’ during the time of reaping, when there is an economic surplus, and continue until the planting season of the following year, but others insisted that it should be both ‘set up’ and ‘burnt’ at a time when the maize is beginning to sprout (Young ,1965).

                               Circa 1949 Domba initiation school. - Barbara Tyrrell / Peter Jurgens
Domba Dance
The great Domba dance is regularly held in the evenings, from dusk to dawn, around a ritual fire. Girls form a long chain and move in a clockwise direction.

The dance symbolized the mystical act of sexual communion, conception, the growth of the fetus and child birth. The successive performances of the dance during the months the school was in progress symbolized the building of the fetus.

The girls began to dance with a monotonous response to the lead singer; then they brake into the ecstatic tivha khulo style of vocal hocketting.

At the end of the dance the girls stopped moving and would lean over in respect.

They lay down in fetal positions as one

Barbara Tyrrell wrote in Tribal Peoples: Traditionally they danced nude, but today their dress is the shedu cloth, passed between the legs forming an apron flap in front and a panel at the back. The girls assemble in the python line, close together, back into the next front and hands gripping the preceding elbows. The chief's daughter leads, her arms free and weaving against the night lie the heads of two serpents.

 Many metal bracelets and anklets glint as the domba line shuffles forward, in slow, rocking movement, to a drowsy tempo and the line of arms ripples up and down, like the python fertility god whom they revere and represent. All dancing is accompanied by chanting, some in the form of question and answer. High pitched voices reply to the booming voice of their teacher, a man who today is clad in European dress with perhaps a leopard skin cloak and feathers on his head. He capers on a wooden platform or runs along the line of dancer switching anyone who is out of time or, with another switch, driving away evil spirits.

                   Initiates lying down. Photographed by Peter Jurgens

 Itinerant musicians known as zwilombe travel from village to village and can be found where beer is available. Their songs comment on life in general but frequently are very critical of chiefs and politicians, often voicing what the people feel but are afraid to say aloud. These musicians are considered slightly insane and therefore are protected from retribution. The instruments used are single-string bows with calabashes as resonators and the thumb piano.

Groups play a variety of drums, including the large ngoma drum with its throbbing bass sound; flutes made from special reeds that must be ritually cut; trumpets made from animal horns; stringed instruments; and rattles that usually are attached to the legs of dancers. The most unusual instrument is the large wooden xylophone (mbila).

 Circa 1949. Xylophones were called mbila and are claimed to be the finest musical instrument of the Venda. They were made from wood, calabashes and plant fibre. The "keys" were 3 to 4 inches wide, made of various thicknesses and beautifully decorated with incised designs. Calabashes served as sounding boards and were attached in graduated sizes with plant fibre. Small apertures were closed by thin membranes.

Various rituals are particular to the Venda and certain aspects are kept secret and not discussed with westerners, however, it is known that the python dance, conducted at the female coming of age ceremony (iconic to the Limpopo region) is usually where the chief chooses a wife. Girls and boys dance fluidly, like a snake, to the beat of a drum, while forming a chain by holding the forearm of the person in front. Once a wife has been chosen a set of courtship and grooming rituals take place over a number of days.
The python dance of young women during the domba is well known; the dancers move one behind the other, with the hands resting on the hips of the girl in front, emulating the movements of a snake.
Tsikona dance:  Most ceremonies are accompanied by dancing. The tshikona is a royal dance, each sovereign or chief has his own tshikona band. Tshikona is played at various occasions for funerals, wedding or religious ceremonies, this can be considered as the Venda 'national music / dance', which is particular to Venda in South Africa.

The tshikona is also traditionally a male dance in which each player has a pipe made out of a special indigenous type of bamboo growing only in few places around Sibasa and Thohoyandou (which no longer exists). Each player has one note to play, which has to be played in turn, in such a way as to build a melody. Tshikona is frequently performed to welcome important visitors (including tourists) to villages.

                                     Venda all male dance,Tsikona.

The tshigombela is a female dance usually performed by married women, this is a festive (winter months) dance sometimes played at the same time as the reed flute dance of the men (tshikona). Tshifhasi is similar to tshigombela but performed by young unmarried girls (khomba).

                                   Venda Tsigombela dance

Phala-phala's were made from the horns of kudu or sable antelopes and used to call the people together for various gatherings. Each horn produced it's own "note" and according to Duggan-Cronin, weird tunes were the result.

Venda drums are considered sacred and come in two forms. The smaller narrow example is held between the legs. A far larger round form usually has four elegantly carved handles where it is often attached to a pole or tree. Both types are called Ngoma, a generic name for drums over a large swath of Africa.
Venda drum.It was believed that the Singo king could protect his people from attack by their enemies by beating a special drum called the Lungundo, "drum of the dead". According to legend, the sound of the drum would strike terror in the hearts of the enemy and they would flee.

Pottery utensils made by women and wooden utensils carved by men have become curios for the tourist trade. This trade has led to men becoming sculptors, creating a variety of nontraditional sculptures for the lucrative overseas art market.
Pottery work of Venda people

 Traditional medicines are made from a variety of plants whose leaves, bark, roots, and juice are used for that purpose. These materials are combined with animal fat, brains, entrails, or genitals. Exceptionally powerful medicine is made by replacing the animal ingredients with ingredients from human beings. Herbalists work only with plants, while witch doctors use all of these ingredients. Modern clinics are found in most villages. When Western medicine does not provide the desired results, people resort to traditional medicines.

Death and Afterlife
 The traditional belief is that after death a person enters the world of the spirits as long as he or she has undergone the initiation rites that make persons full members of adult society. The highest status after death is that of an ancestor (when the deceased has had children), and it is usually the ancestor spirits of the mother's family that have the greatest influence over the living. The spirit world generally is perceived as being below, under the ground, in caves, or under deep pools of water such as Lake Fundudzi, where certain clans believe there is a complete village under the water where on a still, dark night the household fires can be seen and singing and dancing can be heard as well as the sounds of cattle and sheep.

                                                 Venda woman holding beads

Venda Traditional Dress
Traditionally in the Venda culture, the Venda wore only clothing made of skins which were obtained by hunting.
Post-initiate of Bomba wears "the feather" and her woman's backskirt. She stands respectfully, awaiting gifts. Circa 1948

The Vendas believe in the ancestors living with the living, so clothes that are believed to be sacred, represent these ancestors. Around the neck of a Venda lady, a series of beads and amulets may be worn, often very old, each of which is associated with an ancestral spirit. These are passed down through generations as sacred trust and to part with one is to risk immediate retribution from the ancestral realm.
Circa 1928

Venda Culture: Infants
According to Venda culture, the infant has no specific attire and remains naked, but for a string of wild cotton, (ludede) which is tied around its waist until the weaning stage when they are given the tshideka.
Venda infant girl`s dress

The tshideka is a basic garment, worn by both sexes, and consists of a piece of square cloth sewn on the Ludede to cover the private parts, however the buttocks remain uncovered. Two squares can be used, one for the front and the other for the back. When an infant is immunized it is given the lukunda to be worn round the wrist and ankle to protect them against evil spirits.
As the child is weaned, clothes are used to differentiate sex, the boy puts on the Tsindi, and girls a Shedo.

                                         Venda kids in traditional dress

Venda Culture: Male Dress
The tsindi is a triangular piece of soft skin covering the front, passed between the legs and tied at the back and a male will continue to wear variations of this throughout his life.
Cultural events
                                Venda male dancers from Zimbabwe wearing traditional Venda dress

The chief traditionally wore an animal skin headband and a karos or sila over his shoulders.

Venda Culture: Female Dress

Girls start with a shedo, a small square of fabric sewn onto a broad strip which hangs down in front as a small apron. When a girl develops breasts she wears a nwenda at the waist or just above the breasts.
Meanings are attached to the embroidery done on the Nwenda. When a single line of embroidery is done, it is an indication that one is not yet engaged, while those who are engaged have a Minwenda with many lines of embroidery.
Venda women in their traditional dress

Around their ankles girls wear grass anklets, Mutate, before they are engaged; these are removed when she receives real anklets from her betrothed.

Mapala beads are worn by girls and young women and advertise “I am still young and lovely just like a flower which attracts bees. I can bear children for you since I am still fertile.”

The khomba is a girl at a marriageable age, she will still wear a shedo but now solely as an under garment and wears the Nwenda tucked on the waist or above the breast, unless she is performing her initiation rites. Vhukunda (anklets and bangles) is a sign of being engaged, hence the Venda saying: ‘Mmbwa ire na mune ivhonala nga tshiangaladzi’. Meaning ‘the dog which has the master is known as such by a neck collar.’
The bath towel, Thaulo, is an important garment of the Venda female. A woman is said to be well dressed when she emphasizes her hips with a small towel. These days woman wear the towel when they attend the Tshisevhesevhe ceremonies. When a girl is engaged the husband buys a towel for her to cover her face with in case she meets one of her betrothed.

Married ladies dress in a dignified manner, thus demanding respect from the community. She wears the Tshirivha –which is made from the skin of sheep or goat and is well decorated. The ears of the goat are made up into small studs and fastened at the shoulder part of the skin on the decorated side, where they act as the eyes of the Tshirivha.
Venda women

Old women, past child bearing, wear a skin similar to the Tshirivha but made with goat skin complete with head and neck. This garment Phale is stretched lengthwise instead of broad wise. This skin, when properly prepared, reaches nearly to the ankles.

                                                    Vavenda old women

Venda Culture: Status Clothes
In Venda culture, there are some clothes that are worn only by specific people indicating their status, rank or power.

A bride of the king, headman or chief wears the Thau indicating her status of being married to the royals. When she confides, instead of wearing the tshirivha (goatskin) witch is worn by commoners, she puts on the Gwana (sheep skin).Her accessories also differ from those of the commoners.
The traditional healers, who are most close to the gods, can never perform their duties without putting on the Palu, which is a bluish cloth with many white or coloured spots and stripes and it is associated with ancestors. Accessories such as the beads Tsilu la Ndou are worn around her neck; crossing over her chest are white beads, Mpakato; on her arms, copper or brass bracelet Mulinga can be seen and terracotta beads of ancient origin all denote the divine powers given to her by the ancestors. It is felt that the ancestors will not be able to communicate with her if she is not totally clad in this attire.
The Malombe (those possessed by ancestral spirits) during the Malombo dance also wear the Palu. Should it not be included the ancestors will trouble the Venda people. Palu stands for Nwali - "God himself”.
The Malombe dancers will also wear the Matongo, pieces of fabric of different colours, which have a meaning. Red stands for soil or God, blue for the sky, which brings rain, black stands for darkness or the dead and white for happiness.

                                                Venda dress

Thahu were worn as adornment. It is suggested they were specifically there to promote fertility. The article Musidzana wa Tshirova makes further suggestion that these phallic objects are the representation of a male genital organ and the tassels, semen, the latter most likely no more than the authors fantasy and/or false discovery. 

Venda women wore extraordinary beaded belts, snuff tins and blanket pins. Beaded tin panels were worn on the chest and called "Khambana Ya Fola".
Bead colours chosen and beading techniques used resembled those of the Venda's North Sotho and Shangaan neighbours. However, on closer inspection details are easily identifiable to be Venda.

Venda Culture: Dance Groups:
Dancers wear a Tshithuza which is a beaded or crocheted skirt decorated at the hem by tassels or pompoms. Around the calves they wear Thuzwu or Tshwayo. When the mutuzwu fruits are dry, the seeds are taken out and they are filled with little stones. As they perform Venda culture dances they make a noise just like a rattle, thus complementing the rhythm of the drum and the song.

Venda Proverbs
Proverbs are a combination of words to create a particular meaning. This meaning can seldom be guessed from one’s knowledge of the individual words making up the proverb(Underhill 1980:39). According to Dalfovo (1997:42), “Proverbs may be described as sayings originating from experience, being expressed in a pithy, fixed and metaphorical language and conveying a message”. The meaning developed in a proverb differs from the literal meaning of the words used. Learners of Tshivenḓa, and non-native speakers learning Tshivenḓa in particular, may find it difficult to interpret proverbs if these are not explained to them. Although proverbs lack in transparency, they express reality and thus reflect reality in communities in which they are
spoken and are important in documenting archaic words, i.e. words that are no longer in regular use but which may occur occasionally in particular contexts. Zgusta (1971:153) notes that the important thing in this connection is that apart from other formal characteristics, we frequently find that proverbs have as their constituent parts obsolete words and expressions which are not used elsewhere. Proverbs also make a comment on the culture of the language community.

Proverbs are an important aspect of communication in African societies. They are used in everyday conversations. Regarding this importance of proverbs, Mkunchu (1997:107) writes:
"Proverbs can be used in formal or informal settings. Informal situations may be ordinary
day-to-day conversations to advise, rebuke and instruct. Proverbs can also be used in
formal gatherings or special occasions. Such gatherings can be a ceremony to mark the
end of a period of mourning, a meeting called to smooth over a disagreement/conflict, or
the payment of dowry and initiation rites."
Here are some Venda proverbs and their interpretations:
1. Prov. U anetshelwa ndi u dzimiwa “To be told is to be stinted”. A report always leaves something out; better go and find out yourself.
2. Prov: Musadzi wa muluki u hwala nga tshiteto “The basket-maker’s wife has to carry her things in a worn-out winnow”. The tailor’s wife goes in rags.
3. Prov: Dza musanda dzi ṱahula tshene “Royal cattle (don’t damage crops, they merely) pull up weeds”. Children & others from the chief’s place can do no wrong.
4.  Prov: A hu na muthu a faho a si na tsevhi “Nobody dies without having been warned by someone”. One always gets a hint of impending trouble. The difficulty lies in acting on it.
5. Prov: Hu ambuwa vhuṅanga; vhukololo a vhu ambuwi “The medicine-man who crosses a river [into foreign territory] takes his craft with him, but royal rank cannot be taken abroad.” Away from home high birth does not count.
6. Prov: Hu ambuwa vhuṅanga; vhukololo a vhu ambuwi “Professional status crosses rivers but royal descent does not,” i.e. a doctor is still a doctor in a strange country but a prince who crosses the frontier becomes a nobody.
7. Prov: Mutsinda ndi khwine, shaka ndi bulayo “A non-relative is better; a relative is murder”. Relations cause more trouble than other people.
8. Prov: Mutsinda ndi khwine, shaka ndi bulayo “A stranger is better than a relative; a kinsman may be the death of one.”
9. Prov: Mukange a fa, vhana vha Mukange vha a fhalala “When Mr Guinea Fowl dies, his chicks scatter”, i.e. when a great man dies, his children and dependents disperse and the household is broken up.
10. Prov: Thakha ndi mulambo, a i lengi u fhalala “Wealth (property) is like a river (in flood), it goes down quickly.”
11. Prov: Zwivhuya a zwi ḓali, zwa ḓala zwi a fhalala “Good things are not common, and when they do appear they soon vanish again.”
12. Prov: Ḓuvha ḽa maḓumbu dzi lala na mavhoḓa adzo “When there are storms the cows are allowed to have their calves with them for the night”. Circumstances alter cases. Necessity knows no law.
13. Prov: Muḓinḓa ha huli, “A messenger never grows old.” He is still sent on errands when old.
14. Prov: Munwe muthihi a u ṱusi mathuthu “One finger cannot take boiled mealies from the pot,” i.e. one should maintain good relations with others, since alone one is powerless.

                           Leshiba wilderness structure of venda people.

 Musangwe: Venda Bare knuckle combat
In northern South Africa, men of the Venda tribe continue the centuries-old tradition of musangwe, a form of bare-knuckle boxing that helps young men cope with present-day challenges.

Musangwe is Venda combat that is said to have started in the late 1800s. Musangwe has always pitted villages such as Gaba, Tshifudi, Tshaulu, Ha-Lambani, and Tshidzini. There are no prizes awarded to the winners. The fighters fight for personal pride and the bragging rights for their villages. A fighter enters the ring and holds his arm out with a clenched fist.

He circles the gathered men, waiting for someone to take him on. Soon another man holds out his fist and the fight is on.
A silence falls over the spectators - all of them are men or boys, women are not allowed near the musangwe ring - as the two opponents circle each other warily.
Musangwe has grown to be one of Limpopo's most watched cultural events. It is held annually everyday between 16th December and 1st January. It is held at Tshifudi village next to the cattle deep.
The ground where Musangwe takes place is prepared with charms and herbs obtained from Maine (traditional healer). The preparation with herbs and charms is done by the president of Musangwe. The ancestors are told that the Musangwe tournament is officially on. It is said that only one fighter has died in a Musangwe tournament since the tournament started in the late 1800s. The unfortunate fighter died in 1929, and his spirit is summoned at the commencement of each tournament to protect all participants.


The Makhadzi - Defenders of the Sacred Sites
Venda, in Limpopo Province, South Africa is famous for its biodiversity and cultural richness. Its sacred sites are watched over by special custodians, the elder women of the community, known as Makhadzi. These women have come to be known as the "rainmakers" of South Africa, due to the capacity of their cultural rituals to invite rain to the area. For the people of Venda, practices such as these play a vital role in maintaining the health and integrity of their local ecosystems and of the wider community.
The Makhadzi are the matriarchal spiritual leaders of the community. The Venda people have come to understand their land through a philosophy called Mupo - meaning all natural creation, all that is not man-made. Mupo refers to a great order of things, of which human beings are just one small part. Mphatheleini Makhaulule of The Mupo Foundation explains "Mupo is a word that describes the origin of creation, of all creation, of the Universe. When we look at Nature, it's Mupo."

Today, the traditions and practices of the Makhadzi are coming under increasing threat as the sites within which they carry out their traditional practices - and have done for hundreds of years - are now being brutalised by construction projects. During 2007-2008 a road was built across a sacred rock and the river near to the Phiphidi Falls. Phiphidi Falls is one of the sacred sites where the Makhadzi carry out their rainmaking rituals and their celebrations around the fertile, life giving qualities of seed. The sacred rock was broken up in order to make way for the road, and most recently, a series of chalets for tourists have been constructed beside the falls. The Makhadzi are deeply pained by the destruction of their traditional territory and especially their sacred sites.

In light of these increasing threats to the traditional Venda way of life, the Makhadzi and a number of members of the community came together to form a community organisation. They named it Dzomo la Mupo or Voices from the Earth.
In 2009, in order to help rebuild the confidence of the community and their energy to fight for their rights and their sacred spaces, an eco-cultural mapping exercise was carried out with the Dzomo la Mupo. Makhadzi were joined by representatives from across the Venda sacred sites network and by indigenous groups from as far away as the Altai and Colombia - there in solidarity having been through similar processes in their own cultural contexts. The eco-cultural mapping process was co-facilitated by The Gaia Foundation and marked a significant turning point for the community. A renewal of confidence and identity, the mapping process restored the communities faith in the need to stand up against the forces which threatened them.
                                                                     Venda tribe woman

                Origin Stories and Burial Modes
Traditionalists among the Singo Venda believe that ever since the termination of the early period they can only access the supernatural through ritual and libations (Mudau 1940). Even though Singo traditionalists
believe in a definite break from the supernatural past, they see the supernatural as keeping up with the present; the sacred normally intersects with the profane during annual ritual occasions (Blacking 1969). In terms of this underlying logic of cyclical sacred time, the final supernatural event in time would reflect the first (Figure 11.1a); many traditionalists among the Singo Venda believe in a millenarian fashion that Nwali would emerge from his mountain birthplace to reestablish the Singo Empire when the world comes to an end (Gottschling 1905; Stayt 1931).

                                                       Golden Rhino - Mapungubwe

Like traditionalists elsewhere, traditional Venda people maintain that the distant past cannot be understood in terms of everyday processes that are known to operate in linear time.
Venda autonomy was terminated by the beginning of the twentieth century with the military subjugation of the last independent Singo ruler, chief Mpephu. Missionaries have had various degrees of success in converting traditionalist Venda to Christianity (Beuster 1879; Grundler 1899; Ralushai 1977). It might be erroneously assumed that conversions introduced a complete break from traditional religion conceptions. Moreover,
population shifts and underdevelopment brought about by conquest, crop failures, epidemics, and migrant labor may be interpreted as introducing new religious notions among the Venda. For example, some scholars
maintain that the Singo Venda peoples’ account of their early history was influenced by other traditions and religions, ranging from Malawi origin stories (Wilson 1969) to the biblical account of Exodus (Wessmann
1908). According to these views the European subjugation of the Venda people brought about a change of catastrophic events that drove a wedge between the ethnographic present and the pre-conquest past. One outflow of such perspectives is that archaeologists can never hope to understand the proto- or prehistoric religion of the Venda. However, widespread similarities in core religious concepts among the Venda and neighboring groups, particularly the Shona of Zimbabwe and the Northern Sotho, suggest considerable antiquity. This is supported by similarities in religious customs as documented in accounts that predate mission work, conquest, and migrant labor (e.g., Beuster 1879; Da Silva Rego and Baxter 1962;
Liesegang 1977).

Venda clans, or mitupo (singular mutupo), distinguish between themselves primarily by referring to their place of origin and by the way in which they bury their chiefs (Ralushai 1977). In this paper the following three mitupo are used as examples (simply because their practices and archaeology are best documented): the ruling Singo mutupo that inhabits the south-central, central, and southeastern Soutpansberg; the Mianzwi
Mbedzi mutupo that inhabits the eastern Soutpansberg; and the Dzivhani Ngona neighbors of the Mianzwi Mbedzi.
The prominent Singo mutupo, whose members variously claim to come from Matangoni Mountain (Mudau 1940) or from Mbelengwa Mountain (Mudau 1940) in Zimbabwe, bury their chiefs within a mountain, or thavha. Prior to the 1900s this burial location was within a mountain cave. After their conquest by the Boers, the Singo placed their deceased chiefs in a hut that is located on comparatively high ground behind the chief’s stone-walled royal compound. Whether they bury their chiefs in a cave or in a hut, the Singo divide royal burial into distinct stages. An important component of all royal burials is to dehydrate the bodies of the
deceased chiefs on a specially constructed platform and then collect the bones for fi nal placement in the high-lying cave or hut (Ralushai 1977). It is said that a new chief has to swallow a river pebble that dropped from his dehydrated predecessor’s stomach. According to tradition, this pebble initially came from a crocodile’s stomach. The transmission of the pebble in this fashion symbolizes continuity of chieftainship.
The Mianzwi Mbedzi rainmaking mutupo, most of whose members claim to come from Manaledzi Pool in the central Mutale River valley, also bury their rulers in this pool. The Mbedzi fi rst place the body of their
deceased ruler in a shallow grave. After a while they exhume the bones and throw these directly into Manaledzi Pool. Other prominent mitupowith roughly equal status as the Mbedzi, such as the Tavhatsindi and Famadi, fi rst cremate their deceased rulers before scattering the ashes into specific river pools, or thivha. In light of their origin stories and burial practices, it is perhaps not surprising that these people claim that they do not have a mountain; they claim that their mountain is a river pool
(Ralushai 1977).

Venda people generally, and the Singo in particular, fear and try to avoid the Dzivhani Ngona mutupo from the Mutale River area. Dzivhani Ngona people do not like to talk about their place of origin and have no set burial mode for their leaders. Deceased Dzivhani rulers are typically placed in a hut or sacred grove outside their settlement. These locales are feared and avoided, especially by non-Ngona mitupo. Like other so-called Ngona groups in the Soutpansberg, these people have the lowest status among the Venda, but are nevertheless feared as powerful sorcerers (Ralushai 1977). Such Ngona groups are also known as “dry ones,” or zwiomo.

                                                    Great Zimbabwe postdates the Mapungubwe ruins.

The Dual Powers of Venda Chiefs as Expressed in Royal Settlements, Artifacts, and Oral Traditions
As a divine ruler who enjoys the supernatural sanction of the ancestor spirits, the death of a Singo chief is considered disruptive to the natural order. For this reason a chief’s departure is kept secret from his followers (Mudau 1940). Hidden behind the stone walls that enclose the royal compound from the commoners’ gaze farther downslope, the royal family and their functionaries try their utmost to conduct burial rites and succession disputes in private. Only once the departure of a deceased chief becomes known to the general populace and a successor is chosen, do the royalty block the entrance to the high-lying royal residence and make a new one within the stone wall barrier.

                                         Khami Ruins - Zimbabwe

A Singo Venda chief has dual powers; one is political and the other ritual. A chief not only has ultimate control over political decision making, but he also officiates at annual renewal rituals (e.g., Kuper 1982). Political intrigue and decision making primarily occur on the comparatively private “mountain,” or thavha, which is the high-lying area characterized by a labyrinthine network of stone walls (Figure 11.3). A public annual ancestral dedication ceremony, or renewal ritual, known as tshikona, occurs in the assembly area
within a walled enclosure that is below and in front of the chief’s “mountain.” The assembly area, or khoro, is also known as a “pool,” or thivha. It is here that premarital initiates are reborn during the domba (python) dance, very like the apical ancestors during creation (Blacking 1969).
In Venda and Shona cosmology a mountain is seen as male, hard, isolated, and consumptive (e.g., Lan 1985; Van Warmelo and Phophi 1948). The same people view a pool as female, soft, populated, and generative. The juxtaposition of the political/male sphere and the ritual/female sphere within the royal settlement, or musanda, is thus a spatial expression of a chief’s dual powers. These dual powers are also alluded to in stories about outside threats to the safety of the chief and his musanda.
Medicated sticks or bullfrogs buried below the entrance to the assembly area are intended to deter malicious outsiders from entering the musanda (e.g., Davison 1984; Du Plessis 1945). These medicines are supposed to turn the assembly area into a pool that magically hides the chief’s mountain within. However, if the intruder proves to be too strong for the medicines, the chief’s mountain might disappear permanently inside the pool.
This account is a metaphorical allusion to the fact that the chief can use his ritual potency to trick his enemies and so retain his political power. However, if the enemy proves too strong, the chief loses his “mountain,”
or political power, but retains his “pool,” or ritual status.The duality between politics/mountain and rituals/pool evident in royal settlements was also expressed at the much smaller physical scale of a royal
artifact. This artifact is a carved wooden divination bowl (ndilo) that was stored within the chief’s royal “mountain” quarters (Nettleton 1984). Use of such bowls apparently ceased in the early twentieth century. These bowls were used in public only when a big calamity threatened the well being of the entire chiefdom, such as during severe droughts or after a death caused by lightning. Venda informants say that when the chief’s specially appointed diviner (mungoma) fi lled the bowl with water, then it represented a pool hiding the royal musanda; the submerged knob in the center of the bowl signifi ed the chief’s compound, or “mountain.” Bas-relief motifs carved on the bottom of the bowl represented areas within the capital town (Figure 11.4a), such as the cattle byre. Relief motifs on the outside rim represented the different Venda clans. It is said that most people within the chiefdom, royals and commoners, were present in the public assembly
when the bowl was used to divine the cause of misfortune. Zigzag and concentric rings carved on the underside of the bowl represented ancestor spirits who lived in the underworld below the assembly area, or “pool.”
                                     Mapungubwe sandstone formation

Just as when outsiders threaten the musanda, a divination bowl filled with water marks a crisis occasion when the chief’s ritual, or “pool” role predominated over his political, or “mountain” role. The self-similarity
between the royal settlement and the royal bowl demonstrates the ubiquity of the symbolic opposition between mountain-related politics and pool-related rituals. Soapstone bowl fragments with zebra and cattle motifs carved around the exterior of bowls from the 700-year-old hill ruins of Great Zimbabwe (Summers 1971) are reminiscent of the divination bowls of Venda royals (Figure 11.4b). The discovery of these fragments within prehistoric royal quarters suggests that divination and associated beliefs have considerable antiquity. It is interesting that ceramic similarities and Venda oral histories strongly suggest a link between the Singo chiefs and vestiges of the Zimbabwe empire of Shona-speakers.

The dual powers of powerful Venda chiefs, or kings, are also expressed in oral traditions of the early supernatural period recalled by Singo traditionalists. Like powerful Shona chiefs, the powerful Singo king
Dimbanyika subjugated the indigenous Soutpansberg communities by stepping like a giant from one mountain top to the next (Blacking 1969). When the ambitious Dimbanyika “overstepped” at Tshiendeulu Mountain (Figure 11.5a) and incurred the wrath of his sons, it is said that he disappeared in the mountain (some say that his resentful sons trapped him in the cave). Whether the mountain spontaneously fell on the king or whether ambitious princes set a trap (Dzivhani 1940; Motenda 1940), this story is reminiscent of euphemistic references among the Shona and Venda to the death of a chief as “the mountain has fallen.” Some Venda insist that Dimbanyika still lives within a cave in the mountain, and like his father Nwali, would one day emerge to reestablish Singo hegemony. Certain caves that formed in weathered sandy and clayey sedimentary layers within the quartzite formations of the Soutpansberg contain streams and pools. Such mountains with pools are indeed apt natural models of chiefl y political power that contains ritual potency.
Dimbanyika’s son, commonly remembered as Thoho-ya-Ndou, expanded Singo rule throughout the Soutpansberg and beyond. His jealous brothers opposed his rule and with the assistance of local Venda chiefs they created a unified front that proved too powerful for Thoho-ya-Ndou. In a legendary battle near Lake Fundudzi (Figure 11.5b), they defeated Thoho-ya-Ndou and he reputedly disappeared into the lake. His watery death is a variation of Shona and Venda stories of chiefs, or “mountains,” who are overcome by pools and so lose their dominant political position but retain their ritual potency. It is interesting to note that Lake Fundudzi was actually formed when a mountain next to the Mutale River valley collapsed along an unstable fault-line and so blocked the fl ow of the river. This small lake, or large river pool, is an apt landscape metaphor for political decline and retention of ritual status. Like at specific river pools elsewhere in the Soutpansberg, the mountain inside Lake Fundudzi is said to rise above water level during
annual tshikona ceremonies (e.g., Stayt 1931). Descendants who visit these pools not only claim to see the old capital town of their former chiefs on the rising mountain, but also hear the sounds of drums, flutes, and sheep. Overall, at these annual ceremonies on the edge of river pools or within abandoned assembly areas, participants appear to commemorate and reactivate the former glory of their ancestors.
File:Mapungubwe hill limpopo.jpg
            Mapungubwe Hill viewed from the north

Although Thoho-ya-Ndou’s departure marked the end of an extensive Singo trade-based polity centered on Dzata in the Nzhelele Valley, this did not end Singo political expansion in the Soutpansberg, bearing in mind that Thoho-ya-Ndou’s brothers established their own dynasties in different portions of the region. Based on royal genealogies recalled in oral histories, the collapse of the Singo Empire occurred around AD 1750 (Loubser 1990). Descendants of the Tshivhase Singo dynasty in the eastern Soutpansberg eventually conquered the Mianzwi Mbedzi under the Luvhimbi dynasty of rainmakers in the nineteenth century (Ralushai 1978). Prior to the Singo conquest, the Luvhimbi chiefs were prominent players in long-distance trade with the Indian Ocean. After the Singo conquest the main sister of the last Luvhimbi chief took over as leader of the Mianzwi Mbedzi. This sister became an infl uential rainmaker for the Tshivhase Singo chiefs and also a ritual functionary at Singo premarital domba ceremonies. It is said that when they were conquered by the Singo, the Mbedzi musanda turned into a pool (Blacking 1969). Ever since the death of the last male Luvhimbi chief, his sister and her descendants, known collectively by the dynastic name of Tshisinavhute, were buried in Manaledzi Pool, not far from their musanda in the Mutale River valley.
Tthe then current headwoman Tshisinavhute has revealed that her male ancestors were buried in a sacred grove on Tswingoni Mountain (Figure 11.6) and not within Manaledzi Pool as mentioned in documented oral histories. The Tshisinavhute, who was married to a Tshivhase Singo chief, had political ambitions and wished to be buried in the mountain grove of her Luvhimbi male ancestors instead of Manaledzi Pool of her female predecessors.

                                                       Nalatale Ruins - Zimbabwe      

On the opposite, southern side of Tswingoni Mountain, descendants of the Dzivhani Ngona claimed that they once lived near Tswingoni and Tshilavhulu Mountains in the Mutale River valley. It is intriguing that the
Dzivhani remember Tshilavhulu Mountain as “the pool of water” and as a former burial place of their early chiefs. The ruins of the earliest recalled musanda of the early Mbedzi Luvhimbi chief in the Soutpansberg is also located on Tshilavhulu Mountain. Although not mentioned explicitly by informants, this implies that the Mbedzi replaced the Ngona at the Tshilavhulu Mountain settlement. Moreover, certain published Mianzwi Mbedzi oral histories claim that they did not originate from the local Manaledzi Pool, but came from the more distant Malungudzi Mountain in Zimbabwe to the north of the Limpopo River (Ralushai 1978).
On closer scrutiny then, Dzivhani and Mbedzi informants acknowledge origins and burial locales that differ from commonly mentioned ones. It is argued here that this ostensible incompatibility in traditions actually
reflects changes in political power and ritual status of the Mbedzi and Dzivhani. The archaeological record, furthermore, reflects these changes and gives dates as to when they most likely occurred.
Venda woman

The Archaeological Record
According to the “long chronology” of the most detailed royal Singo genealogies (e.g., Van Warmelo 1932), the Singo rulers had settled in the Nzhelele River valley of the central Soutpansberg by the late seventeenth
century AD (Loubser 1991). Radiocarbon dates from Dzata, the first Singo capital town in the Soutpansberg and center of the Singo trading empire, support the “long chronology.” A few Khami type ceramics with diagnostic chevron designs occur at Dzata and its satellite towns in the Soutpansberg (Figure 11.7). These ceramics are similar to seventeenth century ceramics made by Shona-speaking communities in Zimbabwe.
The appearance of the Khami ceramics alongside indigenous Letaba-type
ceramics at Dzata and contemporary sites in the Soutpansberg accordingly implies an infl ux of people from the north and therefore supports those Singo accounts that claim origins in Zimbabwe. It is during their
reign at Dzata that the Singo buried their powerful kings in Tshiendeulu Mountain. The abnormally big size of Dzata (20 hectares) and the concentration of ivory and other long-distance trade items at the site support
oral recollections of it being a prominent capital town. The big assembly area suggests that it was an important ritual center as well. The concentration of walls at the back and higher portion of the settlement represented the “mountain” where the Singo king resided, whereas the clean-swept assembly area lower down the gradual slope represented the “pool” where subjects from across a widespread area attended rituals such as tshikonaand domba.
The Letaba style pots found at Dzata and its satellite towns developed locally in the Soutpansberg area from existing Shona and Sotho ceramic traditions. The earliest Letaba pots come from sites such as Tshitaka-tsha-Makoleni, former capital town of the Luvhimbi Mbedzi dynasty. According to radiocarbon assays of associated charcoal, the earliest Letaba ceramics date to the mid-sixteenth century AD (Figure 11.7).
Since Letaba ceramics are closely associated with sites known to have been occupied by Venda speakers and are still made by Venda-speaking potters today, the development of these ceramics most probably marks the emergence of the Venda language as it is spoken today (Letaba pots combine elements of Soutpansberg Shona motifs and Sotho shapes, the Venda language combines elements of Shona grammar and Sotho vocabulary). The presence of Letaba pots at the Mbedzi capital show that they probably spoke Venda prior to the arrival of the Singo, as indeed mentioned in some oral histories (Motenda 1940; Mudau 1940). But the Zimbabwe style ruins of Tshitaka-tsha-Makoleni also contain Khami type pottery from Zimbabwe, features that support those origin stories that mention the Mbedzi as migrating from north of the Limpopo River (Ralushai 1978). Located on the comparatively steep slope of Tswingoni Mountain, the walls of Tshitaka-tsha-Makoleni contain a “mountain” residence for the chief and his functionaries and an assembly “pool” area that is slightly lower down (Figure 11.7). The mid-sixteenth-century date for the stonewalled capital is probably later than the arrival of the Luvhimbi dynasty from Zimbabwe, since the earliest Luvhimbi chiefs lived at Tshilavulu Mountain prior to their construction of Tshitaka-tsha-Makoleni.
Deposits directly underneath the stone walls and associated Khami and Letaba ceramics at Tshitaka-tsha-Makoleni contain an earlier ceramic style known as Mapungubwe. These Mapungubwe ceramics occur in layers that have been dated to between the late thirteenth and mid-sixteenth centuries. The layers have far fewer walls than the Mbedzi period occupation but some terraced walls lower down the slope date to the Mapungubwe period occupation of Tswingoni Mountain (Figure 11.7). As at other prominent Mapungubwe period sites in the Soutpansberg and Limpopo River valley, terraced walls separate the assembly area from the royal area on the uphill side (e.g., Huffman 1986).
The Dzivhani Ngona people are the most likely candidates to have lived at Tswingoni Mountain prior to the arrival of the Mbedzi, including on Tshilavulu Mountain not far north of Tswingoni Mountain. If the Dzivhani
claim that their former chiefs were buried on Tshilavhulu Mountain is true, then the burials must predate the settlement of the Mbedzi immigrants on the mountain. Judging from the ceramic and radiocarbon record
at Tswingoni, Dzivhani occupation must be associated with Mapungbwe ceramics that predate the sixteenth century. Historians and linguists associate Mapungubwe ceramics with very old Shona-speaking inhabitants of the Soutpansberg area, and the so-called Ngona people such as the Dzivhani are descendants of these autochthones (Beach 1980; Ehret 1972). The more prominent Mapungubwe sites in the region have yielded evidence of “mountain” burials, assembly areas, and long-distance trade items from the coastal trade (Loubser 1991). Even though Mapungbwe period walls are comparatively scarce and simple, the mountain/pool dichotomy still seems to be present within Mapungbwe settlements that date back to the middle of the twelfth century. Prior to this date, which marks the beginning of a fully fl edged long-distance trading empire centered on Mapungubwe Hill, mountain burials seem to be absent (Gardiner 1963).

Status Misrepresented as Stasis
Variants of the mountain/pool symbolism as outlined above are present among most Bantu-speaking groups in sub-Equatorial Africa, but this dichotomy is perhaps nowhere as pronounced and elaborate as among
the Venda and Shona-speaking peoples of far northern South Africa and Zimbabwe. According to the archaeological record this belief system can be traced back for nine centuries in the Soutpansberg. A change in the burial location from mountain to pool can be interpreted as indicative of a change in belief, however. Yet, the ethnographic record unequivocally shows that the two burial modes are part of the same belief system that is acted out on the landscape; mountain burials demonstrate ancestrally sanctioned political power, whereas pool burials accentuate religious potency. Internal logic, oral historical recollections, and archaeological evidence show that this is not a static system but a dynamic process. This process not only accentuates the ruling group’s current status and presents it as eternal, but it also masks the previous status of subverted groups.
The pool within the mountain signifies the religious potential of a political ruler; a defeated chief without a mountain retains or even enlarges his/her pool status and normally becomes an important ritual functionary
for a new ruler (Figure 11.8a). The mountain within the pool signifies the political potential of the conquered chief; through renewed alliances with the current rulers a ritual functionary can always work his/her way back
up the political system to regain mountain status. The case of the Mianzwi Mbedzi female rainmaker dynasty is but one of the better documented examples that illustrate this notion. However, a ruler without a mountain
or a pool is outside this system and has no potential for upward mobility. The leaders of the Dzivhani Ngona are one of many such ambivalent figures in the Soutpansberg who live outside the periphery of the Venda
political system. Yet, these seemingly powerless and impotent rulers, also known as “dry ones,” or zwiomo, are feared and avoided by mountain and pool leaders. One reason for this respect for the weak lies in changing political fortunes during historic and prehistoric times.
Archaeological evidence and certain oral testimonies indicate that the ancestors of the Dzivhani Ngona once occupied at least two prominent mountain-slope settlements in the Mutale River valley—Tshilavhulu
Mountain and Tswingoni Mountain. Based on the comparatively big size of these Dzivhani settlements and recollections of their chiefs being buried in these mountain locations, the Dzivhani probably were once powerful rulers in the region (Figure 11.8b). Dzivhani rule lasted until the Mbedzi immigrants from Zimbabwe settled in the Mutale valley some 500 years ago. Subjugated by the Mbedzi, the Tshilavhulu Mountain of
the Dzivhani changed into a “pool of water.” The Mbedzi fi rst ruled from Tshilavhulu and later from Tswingoni Mountain until they in turn were subjugated by the eastern Singo Tshivhase dynasty in the nineteenth century. With their loss of political power and mountain status, the Mbedzi rulers were relegated to pool status. At the same time the Dzivhani lost their pool status to become the “dry ones.”
When traditionalists view status grades in terms of cyclical time alone, without consideration of politico-religious process or linear time, status grades appear as divinely ordained juxtaposed units (Figure 11.8a).
However, viewed in terms of politico-religious process and punctuated linear time, status grades resemble stratified geological layers with an underlying dynamic (Figure 11.8b). In the latter sense, status grades among the Venda mitupo are a function of relative antiquity; those at the bottom of the hierarchy are the oldest. But the oldest are also in a sense the most potent, considering that they have the most intricate link with the land and its spirits. Perhaps in tacit recognition of the Dzivhani Ngona’s previous power, the ruling Singo people respect and fear these autochthonous people. Another reason why the Singo and their allies fear the various Ngona groups is that these ousted people no longer fall within commonly recognized politico-religious boundaries. Metaphorical allusions among the Venda emphasize the notion of socially acceptable boundaries; in the court language of Singo royals a chief is called a crocodile that does not leave its pool, whereas Ngona rulers are generally seen as anomalous crocodiles, or sorcerers, wandering about on dry land (Nettleton 1984).
Such allusions to mountains, pools, and crocodiles are indeed ancient; they are part of the same religious system that has informed the settlement layouts and burial practices of peoples that have lived on both sides
of the Limpopo River for the last 900 years.

                                                   Domba dance

Venda Vhusha initiate

Renowned Venda artist Noria Mabasa was born in Xigalo village in 1938.

Venda wedding dance

Venda women

Rain-makers of venda tribe

This white anthropologist is obviously abusing this girl`s right in Vhusha initiation rite


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