March 22, 2011 at 8:11 am (Uncategorized)

I took a taxi/mini van to the mountain village of Tshidzivhe 2 weeks ago with Mashudu T. The drive is about an hour over bumpy dusty rocky road, and the taxi dropped us just before the really steep bit so me and my pack, and Mashudu and her wheely suitcase had to hike up the rest of the way. Luckily some children found us to be quite an interesting arrival and helped us with our shopping bags of food whilst giggling and staring.

The view

Tshidzivhe village sits on top of a mountain that overlooks the beginning of the Drakensberg mountains. We were staying at the chief’s place and he lives with his family right on the top, so you don’t have to go far to find a spectacular view. There are big banana leaves blocking some of the view to the north, but if you sit on the rocks under the big trees you can see for miles. In the evenings there are sounds from the trees, and branches seem to move on their own accord, but when you look up there you just miss a glimpse of a grey monkey jumping about. During the day you can always hear cow bells, even when you can’t see any cows.

Me trying the marula drink from a calabash

One night the chief and some others were drinking a traditional alcoholic drink made from the Marula tree fruits, and everyone was getting a bit tipsy. He gave me a beautiful decorated calabash saying it was specially for me and that I should keep it safe but I should tell everyone at home that I was given it by the chief of Tshidzivhe.. which is what I am doing now! He also said he would take Mashudu and I on a trip to see the sacred lake Fundudzi. The day we went to the lake was great, the chief, two of his friends, Mashudu and I managed to cram into this tiny battered red ‘citi golf’ car of which the door on my side was falling off and the speakers kept cutting out. We were listening to DJ Joe most of the way, the volume cranked up, along really rocky dirt tracks through the forest. After we went down a few un-passable roads which we had to reverse back up, we arrived a walkable distance to the Lake about an hour or so later. Most of the whole hour, the forest we were passing through was a pine tree plantation, rows and rows of tall non-indigenous evergreen trees. It was gigantic! I find it to be such a boring forest to replace the thousands of acres of lush indigenous forest that was there before which would have also had wild fruits, animals and many many different insects in. The Lake was beautiful, we saw some fish and I took in the steep mountainous view. Then we drove on to visit a man who showed me a traditional way of pounding peanuts and maize and such, and he gave us some bananas from his tree and some biltong (dried meat). From there we went to visit a lady who was making a traditional beer out of millet, I had a taste.. quite nice. We drove on, back into the pine forest, on our way to the sacred forest.

Pine tree plantation

Just before we got to the sacred forest, some workers were harvesting a section of the pine forest, massive 3 wheeled tractor/digger machines were picking up and throwing trees around like they were plastic piping. Approaching the sacred forest was quite magical, it has been preserved the way it has been existing since the beginning of time. There were pine trees pine trees pine trees, right up to the edge of this lovely green disordered mass of all different kinds of trees with vines hanging down and moss on the tree trunks. It was like the elves’ forest in lord of the rings or something. And it was striking, the difference between the great mass of buzzing, humming, life in this forest compared to the barren, dry, lifeless and orderly pine trees that don’t even belong here, just next to it. I was not allowed to enter any further than the edge of this forest, and I did not want to push my luck since mysterious things have happened to people in there. Before leaving however, the chief showed me the reason for coming here.. about 15 Christian graves had been built in the sacred forest, a place where only bones with no flesh on can be buried in the customary way. To build them they had to cut down a fair amount of trees, and they had left some excess bricks behind as well as litter from the flowers that people put there.

The biltong

The chief was visibly disturbed by it, he said that this is a sacred place for those that have treated it so for thousands and thousands of years, we wouldn’t bury our dead in a church, so why should they bury their dead here, cut down trees and put their religious quotes on the stones? I said I didn’t know, I had no answer. He is currently fighting a legal battle to get these graves out and the trees replanted.

We drove on, DJ Joe back on the track, and the biltong starting to make the car smell like a dead cow. It was a good day.

Walking to the farm

I have spent most of my time talking to elder makhadzi women and going to visit their farms to see what things they are growing. Some of the farms are quite a way away, which is no easy feat in these mountains. I have also been able to try some of the delicious foods they are growing, like sugar cane (so nice), avocado, bananas, maize, pumpkin, ponda.. and some different wild fruits, one which is a bit like a fig. It is great to know what you can eat in the wild, everytime I go out to see a farm I look out for fruits in the trees… my name is Muofhe for a reason! I learnt many things talking to these ladies, some traditional healers, some who live in big houses, some in small. Many of them had nurseries where they were growing indigenous tree seedlings, and they knew all the names. I also spoke to a few men, one of whom made drums and spoons out of some of the trees in the forest.

Everyone was so generous and kind to me, I was given a Mukasi, a traditional venda skirt by Vho Nancy, and Vho Joyce gave me some venda beads to go with it. They all said it made me look beautiful “no naka!” which made a change to them jokingly calling me a ‘chibumba’ (some fat person). I don’t want to be a chibumba, but surely being called Muofhe means I am entitled to!

On the Sunday of the first weekend, I went to church again. This time there were more people and some keyboards and microphones. People stood on the stage and sang, doing some crazy dance moves during the songs. One guy was particularly enthusiastic. At first Mashudu and I sat down and were just tapping our feet, but it was kind of infectious. At one point everyone went up to dance at the front by themselves. I knew they were going to call on me to also go, and I initially tried to say no like a true pansy british woman, but they insisted! So I went for it and danced out to the front trying to copy what they had done on stage. It was really fun! And everyone was whistling and clapping. Loved it.

Tshisikhawe holding plants to cure flu

The second week that I have been here, I have had a rubbish cold, which is not cool, but on the plus side I have tried two different traditional medicines to get over it. One they boiled 2 particular plants and I had to breathe in the steam which hurt my eyes a bit, it was strong! The second was a spoonful of melted pig fat, we went to the fire and held the metal spoon over it. This is actually a miracle, it stopped a really annoying tickly cough so that I could sleep twice, and now it’s almost gone. Could have done with that in December last year!

On the Thursday of the second week, I had finished visiting all the people I was meant to visit, and they wanted to show me a traditional food called Tshidzimba. Which is beans, maize, ponda and peanuts all boiled into a tasty mush. Whilst we were waiting for it to cook we got the drums out and people starting singing and dancing. I love the songs, there is a song about Muofhe too, which I want to learn.

Banging the drums

I was taught a few of the dances, most of them are really confusing to me because they involve lots of stamping in time to the drums and I’m never quite sure what to do with my hands. I was pretty good at one dance though, and you dance it with another person as a kind of stand off.. the person still standing wins! Somehow I managed to remain standing the longest, my chibumba legs no doubt J haha it was so much fun. As the last dance, two of the elder women pretended to be fighting over grasshoppers, it was hilarious! I also watched a dvd with the chief of some traditional dances, which was also pretty funny because they seemed to be mostly about lady’s private parts that ‘shouldn’t be touched’, and men’s balls that get stuck! So very rude.

Having tea at the ceremony

Mashudu left on Friday and I decided to stay an extra day because the chief’s brother’s new baby was 3 months old, which meant that he could now go outside the house and be given a name! So it was a party pretty much. I got up around 6:30, made a fire and swept the room the fire is in. Then I fetched some rain water from the bucket because the tank had run out, and boiled it so that I could have warm water to ‘bath’ in. Afterwards I spent a really nice hour or so talking with some of the kids in the chief’s place. The smallest boy, Rotundwa, seems to really like me and I am happy to have made a friend, he is very sweet. Then we went down to the house where the people were gathering. So much talking and laughing and cooking, we ate a big meal of chicken and pap, and then a second meal straight away of rice with a shed load of mayonnaise and a little bit of grated carrot and cabbage. Later we sat outside and a 5 litre bottle of wine appeared from somewhere. I had a few glasses, and when the makhadzis started singing, Vho Lucy got me to get up and dance and Vha koma banged a water tank for a drum. We walked back up the hill under a full pink coloured moon and I am very happy that I decided to stay.


Again, I feel incredibly privileged to be sharing the lives of such lovely people. I don’t yet know how I can return their generosity, but I hope that my work with the Mupo Foundation will boost the organisation to continue doing the good work that it is doing in the communities. So now I have collected quite a lot of information, I am returning to Vuwani to spend the next week in the office typing everything up and designing some brochures.


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March 7, 2011 at 8:27 am (Uncategorized)

This week I have been staying in a village called Ngulumbi.. I think it is north west of Thohoyandou. Not too far anyway, maybe about 20 minutes in the taxi (sometimes 45 mins, never predictable).

The house has a gorgeous view of some steep but low mountains directly opposite, like we are always looking at a painting of green leafy fields. There are lots of mango trees, avocado trees, macadamia nut trees and maize crops.. and in the opposite direction are some tea plantations, at a village called Vhutanda (where I will be staying at some point down the line!). As much as I understand and agree with the disadvantages of growing only one crop over a vast space of land which used to be a dense indigenous forest; the tea fields do look very luscious and picturesque from a distance!

Dancing the Shikona, Tshidsive

On Tuesday we went to a village in the mountains called Tshidsive to watch a Shikona dance. About 20/30 boys from the village dressed up in grass head gear and skirts and played sort of whistle/recorders, each one with a different pitch, and one playing the big swirly wilderbeast horn. There was one adult wearing an animal skin, with the animals head on his head, and two other guys who were keeping the boys in line with sticks. The makhadzi women were playing biiig drums to the whistling. They started in a group and then started dancing in a circle, it looked very complicated. At the end of it Mpathe gave a speech about how they should be very proud of their heritage and continue to learn the Shikona dance, then she introduced me (‘Muofhe’) and told me I need to say some words too! I’m beginning to get the hang of this spontaneous speech giving I think. As a thank you/acknowledgment they all played one note on their whistles.

I’ve spent most other days in the office doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but on Friday we stayed in Ngulumbi and interviewed another makhadzi about ancestral foods, and her opinion on the destruction of the sacred site at Phiphidi… it was an interesting day, I also learnt some more Venda words, and asked Vho Matamela (in Venda) if she would let me buy some bracelets from her. VhoMatamela  must be in her late 70s and she makes the traditional Venda bracelets that the Makhadzis wear, using a horn from some animal, and a piece of wood. She measured my wrist and made 14 specially for me. I love them!

At the river

This weekend we have relaxed in the sun, all the children were home since there is no school, so we started to get to know each other a bit better! Mostly we sat around making beaded bracelets, learning Venda, dancing, doing homework or trying to smoke out a snake. On Saturday though, we all went on a walk down the steep track to the river which feeds into the Phiphidi waterfall, we clambered over the rocks in the river to get upstream to the rickety rope bridge. We all got in up to our waists at least, and I spent a lot of effort trying not to drop my camera in the water.. which made me look like a clumsy city girl fool who can’t walk gracefully on river boulders! I maintain that I was also looking out for the smaller kids because I was the only one who could swim. Don’t think I convinced them though! Mpho was holding my hand and helping me across the rocks, and she is 12! Haha. It was such a nice day.

Sunday I went to a church service and read the bible. I loved listening to the many gutsy harmonious songs that they were singing, and the pastor was very welcoming, although I understood very little of the service since it was in Venda. I did a lot of clapping though, and Riena was telling me when to pray.. I said ok and continued to read how god tells Adam that he has dominion over all other species on earth…

I will be sorry to leave Ngulumbi! Tshidsive tomorrow, for 2 weeks I will be staying with the chief’s mother, and the other Mashudu from Mupo (Mashudu T). There is no electricity in Tshidsive, or much phone network, so will be off the radar for a while! Ndi do ni vhona ngawuya – see you later!

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