At Expedition Subsahara, we find happiness in learning about other cultures. Today’s spotlight is on the Venda people, who occupy the northeastern corner of South Africa, bordering southern Zimbabwe.
According to Siyabona Africa, the Venda people came from the Great Lakes of Central Africa, first settling in the Soutpansberg Mountains. They built the first capital D’zata, the ruins of which can still be seen today and are a national monument. “Venda culture has an interesting mix of other cultures - it appears to have incorporated a variety of East African, Central African, Nguni, and Sotho characteristics.” For this reason, they’re known as “composite people,” as composite means made up of various parts or elements.
Tribes were traditionally composed of people who chose to “owe allegiance to a particular dynasty” (source) and each tribe was ruled by an interdependent chief. Many chiefs belonged to lineages of the same clan.
According to the South Africa site, “the origin of the Venda people and culture is believed to have been the Mapungubwe Kingdom founded in the ninth century. They were first ruled by King Shiriyadenga whose empire stretched from 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.” They migrated south of the Limpopo River, then to present day South Africa, which they named “Venda” or “Pleasant Place” and settled.
Venda place importance on ancestors, who remain active in their daily lives. They communicate with familial ancestors and the king in Venda traditions is seen as a living ancestor. Water is also culturally important to the Venda, as they believe water spirits, or zwidutwane, live at the bottom of waterfalls and food offerings are brought to the spirits. Lake Fundudzi is a sacred site. “Suspicion surrounds the lake, which is fed by the Mutale River yet does not appear to have an outlet. It is also said that you can sometimes hear the Tshikona song although no one appears to be there (source).”
Venda have many rituals pertaining to marriage, coming of age and funerals, all of which include music and dancing. Drums are played by women and girls, except during dances in which men may play them.
Today, Venda people rely on agriculture, growing corn, peanuts, beans, peas, sorghum and other vegetables. They also keep cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and fowl. Tribal chiefs are responsible for the land, and local headmen allow household groups to work tracts of land (source).
“Under the apartheid system the land of the Venda people was designated a homeland so they were fairly unaffected by the political and social changes that had such a massive affect on the rest of the country.
The 1,000,000 strong Venda population was left alone to live the way they had for hundreds of years in their lush, mountainous and remote region, which is why their culture, language, arts and crafts have survived so strongly,” the Siyabona Africa website states.
The Venda are another beautiful, diverse African people rich with culture and tradition.
Photos from google