10 September 2016

Visit to a South African Tribal Village

I first visited this cultural village back in 2003, as a third grader. For 9 years, I  have carried a somewhat dimly-lit memory of this excursion, webbed between the network of neurons that are protected by the outer sulci of my brain. Last weekend, a new memory of this tourist-targeted cultural village was ignited. My previous recollection unreliably recalls my peers and I, with much apprehension, selectively picking the least gross-looking worm -mopane worms to be exact (a South African delicacy)- to take as a victim to our unsuspecting westernized palates. Last weekend, I returned with my family . Due to my somewhat 'practical experience' and 'expertise' on this local delicacy, I did not re-live the worm-eating affair.

'Lesedi' means light in Sotho, one of South Africa's 11 official languages. This dialect is widely spoken in Lesotho, a country land-locked completely by South Africa, hence, the Free State province, just above this country speaks Sotho, hence its appearance on South Africa's official language list.

The colourful geometric shapes which journey across the perimeter of the walls, as seen above, are synonymous with the Ndebele people of South Africa. These patterns originated after 1883, when the Ndebele people joined the Boer workers in a Boer war. After their loss in the war, these people faced harsh circumstances, as are the repercussions of many, if not all wars. The African people turned to pattern and colour to vent their grievances. Hence, Ndebele house painting was born. The patterns are said to portray cultural values, belief systems, symbols of marriage, symbols of self-identity and personal prayers. The pattern is created by the woman of the household, hence, a well-painted home shows a good wife and good mother figure.

Similarly, the traditional dress is opulent in colour. The neck and leg accessories called 'isigolwani'  are worn after a woman undergoes initiation. These bulky pieces are said to have been worn so that it would be very difficult for them to run away. The brass around the ladies' wrists and legs are called 'dzilla'. These are worn by married woman. 

The second lady from the left is unmarried, indicated by the lack of 'dzilla' around her limbs and her bere breasts. In several African tribes, it is very common to see bare breasts. This unmarried lady is showing off her feminine assets to attract a man, as is common for the Ndebele people.

Back in 2012, across two days in August, 47 people were killed when police opened fire on protesting miners. The miners were demanding a wage increase The events of this day have since becomes known as the Marikana Massacre. The lady on the far left is wearing a shirt that says 'Marikana Skeem' which means Marikana scheme in Afrikaans, another official language of SA.  The Marikana shootings took place in the same province that this cultural village was located. Hence, it is my thinking that the lady supported what the miners stood for on that day, which resulted in many losing their lives.

The blanket wrapped around me above is called 'nguba'. It usually always consist of monochromatic stripes which run vertically across it. Married woman wrap themselves in the blanket out of respect for their husbands...I guess that makes me married?
It is important to note that this cultural village is a 'mock' depiction of a genuine Ndebele tribal village. This set-up is for tourists. The people sell their beaded works, they have conference centres and wear western clothing under traditional garments. It represents the style of the culture well, but is not a 100% accurate depiction of the tribe. It is a fairly accurate representation that allows visitors an experience of a group of people in South Africa.

African tribes are embedded with narratives which largely include animals. Animals have always played a vital role in rituals or ceremonial occasions, and in communicating with ancestors. Africans hold culture very near and dear to their hearts. A zebra without its stripes is simply not a zebra, hence a person without culture, fails to be a person.

I thought that these were the perfect examples of 'up-cycling'. These chairs are made from old washing buckets. A washing bucket has been cut in half, into a semi-circle, and placed within a frame. I personally loved this new use for something old. To incorporate it into its Ndebele context, it is decorated with pattern.

The people were so lovely and so willing to share their cultural with us. It was truly a heart-warming experience.

Till next time-

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