Similar to most tribes in South Africa, the Venda people moved there from Central Africa. They are among the last black community to cross the Limpopo River and settle in the Soutpansberg Mountains of the Limpopo Province. They are not very populous but they have a rich cultural heritage. The Venda culture is closely associated with the spirit world. They express their beliefs and customs through art decorations on their structures, pottery and woodcarving.
Venda Tribe, People and Culture
The origin of the Venda People and culture is believed to have been the Mapungubwe Kingdom founded in the 9th Century. They were first ruled by King Shiriyadenga whose empire stretched from the Soutpansberg in Southern Africa, all the way across the Limpopo River and the Matopos towards the north. The realm disintegrated in the year 1240 and power quickly shifted to the Great Zimbabwe Empire.
The Vendas who first settled in Soutpansberg were ruled by the famous chief Thoho-ya-Ndou whose remains remain a National Monument and inspire their connection to the spirit world. His name translates Head of the Elephant and his majestic kraal – the D’zata – is a splendid testimonial. Water is so sacred to this group that they associate every water source with a divine Python god. They are mythical people and believe water is sacred, therefore regarding Lake Fundudzi as holy and sanctified.
They hold ceremonies at this lake and dance while they pour alcohol into the lake. Young maidens also have to line up along this river and dance like a snake to appease the Python god. This is usually done as an initiation into womanhood. They believe such dances and merry-making ensure good rains and good harvests. Venda Legends are associated with drums and all manner of drumming occasions. It is why chiefs and headmen are the custodians of these drums as they symbolize unity and tradition. These drums are usually five: three murumbas, one thungwa and one ngoma.
The Sangoma is a famous traditional healer said to have a close association with ancestors and spirits that guide and protect the Venda community. These people remain connected to their ancestors and have much trust in the spirit world. They seek to appease them often so that no curse befalls the clan. The Sangoma are usually the ones to diagnose any illness and prescribe medication for the same. Usually, they have to consult the spirit world before giving our the healing herbs.
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Like in most African countries, the Venda people of South Africa have their own attire which is unique to them. According to the Venda culture, children have no specific attire and remains naked, but for a string of wild cotton called Ludede which is tied around their waist until the weaning stage when they are given the Tshideka. The garment for the young Venda girls differs from the ones worn by the adult women. The young girls wear Maredo – a narrow strips of cloth (Wenda) hanging between the legs over a girdle in the front and back while the older women (usually the married ones) wear a ceremonial back apron made of sheepskin called Gwana.
Moreso, theVendaa young girls decorate themselves with bracelets and necklaces of twisted grass called Vhukunda. They also wear pieces of copper twisted round a string of cotton, called Thuthu or Shedo, round the ankles and wrists. Old women, past childbearing, wear a garment that is similar to the Tshirivha but made with goatskin complete with head and neck. This garment Phale is stretched lengthwise instead of broadwise.
For the male, a loincloth called Tsindi is an important item of clothing. The Tsindi is a triangular piece of soft skin that is passed between the legs and tied at the back, making a room for a special covering at the front. Tsindi worn by mature men were made from the skin of a goat, klipspringer or duiker.
Different attires are also worn for different weather. During the cold weather, Venda men were a cloak over the shoulders called Nguvha. It was usually made by young men from a complete goat’s skin. The village chief traditionally wears an animal skin headband and a Karos or Sila over his shoulders. Today, the Venda men wear shirts made from the traditional striped ‘Wenda cloth. Sometimes they wear a length of ‘Wenda cloth tied across one shoulder.
Venda Music and Dance
Dance is important and a must-learn part of the Venda culture. The Vendans appreciate their dance styles as much as their music. From an early age, the kids start learning dance routines, drum playing and participating in music making and sing songs and musical games, which are known in Venda as “nyimbo dza vhana”.
The Tshikona is a royal dance, each sovereign or chief has his own Tshikona band. Tshikona is played during special occasions like funerals, wedding or religious ceremonies, this can be considered as the Venda ‘national music and dance’, which is particular to Venda in South Africa. Varieties 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 large wooden xylophone called the Mbilaare used to complement the Venda music.
The Venda language is a member of the Bantu/Nguni class of languages. Interestingly, it is also related to Niger and Congo languages. It is also referred to as Tshivená¸“a or Luvená¸“a and it is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa. Well over 650,000 of Tshivenda speakers live in the northern parts of South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Those that speak Tshivenda have a royal family line and adhere to strict traditions that relate to this connection.
For example, if the son of a Venda family wants to become a chief or king, his mother must be eligible. If she is not, he stands no chance of reaching his goal. Mothers are required to be part of the royal family, and this ensures that children have royal blood. The Tshivenda culture allows a sister and a brother from different mothers to marry. This is another promise that only royal blood will take the throne.
See Also: Xhosa Tribe, People and Culture
The lifestyle of the Venda revolves around farming. They keep cattle and associate having a lot of livestock to wealth, power and prominence. Clear cut roles exist between the different sexes and these defined roles are how they share our duties and responsibilities on a daily basis. Women do house chores and harvest while men roles are mostly outdoors, where they plough, look after cattle and build the huts they live in. Polygamy is another way of life as men have vast lands and animals making them rich and able to marry many women. The Venda culture likes dress codes and does not change much since they are rich and able to sustain their current lifestyles.
Other Fact You Should Know About Venda Tribe
- The Venda tribe are taught skills and craft making from their very early age. The women make Pottery utensils made by women while the men make wooden utensils.
- Venda is spoken by about 666,000 people in the northern part of South Africa’s Limpopo Province.
- Venda men and children enjoy football above every other kind of sports. The men and are football crazy.
- About 10% of Venda speakers live in Zimbabwe.
- To Venda people, Venda music and dance is not a substitute for happiness, but an expression of it.
- The most famous kind of Venda dances is the Domba, or python dance which is held annually at one of their most sacred sites, Lake Fundudzi to plead for a good raining season for the following year.
- The Venda language is also known as Luvenda or Tshivenda. It originates from the Bantu language and is also related to the Niger-Congo language family
- Venda applied to become a part of South Africa in 1991.