Posts Tagged With: Lobedu

Mountain Streams and Dancing Fish

After a short break, I am back with the final leg of our journey through Limpopo, and we have left Mogalakwena en route to Louis Trichardt, making our way along the base of the magnificent Soutpansberg Mountains.

The Soutpansberg Mountains

The Soutpansberg Mountains

The weather is warm and Petra and I are in high spirits after our highly eventful holiday. 8 km’s beyond Louis Trichardt, on the R55 to Vivo, we take a right turn and drive a short distance through thick, lush bush up to the Madi a Thava Mountain Lodge, nestled amongst trees in a sprawling natural garden. As I climb from the dusty vehicle, I am engulfed in a cool refreshing breeze that wafts down from the mountain. Savouring the quality of the air, I wander across to the edge of the car park and remember the sense of safety this place provides, embraced by the protective arms of the mountain. I have been here before, a long time ago, and it feels good to be back. I am eager to see all the developments and to check out their amazing collection of art. This lodge is the perfect place to round off our trip, for not only do I know that I will be creatively inspired here, I also know that it is going to be a wonderfully comfortable way to spend the final few days of my holiday.

The entrance to the lodge is as I remember it, open and inviting, with large Venda pots on the verandah giving just a hint of what is to come. I am filled with anticipation as I enter the building, and feel immediately at home in the bright and tastefully furnished interior, filled to capacity with beautiful examples of African arts and crafts…and I don’t mean curio art, but really good pottery, woodwork, embroidery and beading from the Limpopo region.

Madi a Thava

Madi a Thava

A sculpture by

A sculpture that announces the presence of the Dancing Fish Gallery

We are greeted by our friend, Marcelle Bosch, who is the owner, manager and general overall superwoman who maintains and continually develops this little piece of Paradise.

Marcelle Bosch

Marcelle Bosch

Marcelle is a woman of vision, passionately committed to promoting local artists and providing an outlet through which they can sell their work, both at the lodge and through her very comprehensive website. She is actively involved in helping and motivating these artists, offering workshops and discussion groups through which they can inspire and motivate each other.

She is also extremely knowledgeable about the customs and traditions of the people who live in the area, specifically the Venda, Tsonga and Northern Sotho groups, and she offers excursions that take visitors into the rural areas to meet the local people, so that they can learn first hand about the rich cultural heritage of Limpopo.

A guest to the lodge, even an overnight visitor, cannot help but be affected by the richness of these cultures, for there is visual evidence of them everywhere, from the decor in the main lodge, to the sculptures that adorn the colourful, stylish bedrooms, to the informative Dancing Fish Gallery, which is situated across the lawn from the main lodge building.

Then, in a sunlit room attached to the lodge, Marcelle has gathered together a group of local women, who are beavering away happily on their sewing machines, producing colourful linen and other soft items, which are available to buy through her shop, but are also sold through outlets around the country, and beautifully displayed in all the lodge bedrooms.

The gorgeous bedrooms at Madi a Thava

The gorgeous bedrooms at Madi a Thava, adorned with colourful soft furnishings made by the Madi a Thava art group

These colourful cushions are an example of the work produced by the women at Madi a Thava

These colourful cushions are an example of the work produced by the women at Madi a Thava

The food at the lodge is delicious and on this warm Sunday evening we sit out on the open verandah and enjoy a candle-lit dinner with entertainment provided by the chef, who after pounding on his drum, sings to us with his most amazing baritone voice! I am delighted and savour the moment as much as the meal that follows.

We use the next couple of days to go out and see the local artists in the area, all within easy driving distance from the lodge. I have written about these visits to Thomas Kubayi and the Northern Sotho dance group in my previous blog posts.

So on the final day, we are relaxing within the grounds of the lodge and I am spending time enjoying The Dancing Fish Gallery. This houses an impressive collection of Tsonga, Venda and Northern Sotho art and artifacts, beautifully curated by Petra Terblanche, with whom I have been traveling. Petra’s passionate interest in the local traditions and her long history as a museum curator are clearly obvious as one enters the cool interior of the building. She has carefully laid out the display so that it takes the visitor on a journey through the traditions of each cultural group, with fine examples of their art and craft.

Petra Terblanche, curator of the Dancing Fish Gallery

Petra Terblanche, curator of the Dancing Fish Gallery

To view a sampling of work on show at the Dancing Fish Gallery, click on the images below:

The story unfolds through beautifully designed posters, produced by Petra’s friend, Harold Kolkman, a social anthropologist from Holland, with whom Petra has worked on numerous other projects.

A poster that explains the history ad traditions of the Hananwa people

A poster that explains the history and traditions of the Hananwa people

After a visit to this gallery, one becomes aware of just how fascinating the history of Limpopo Province is, with the arts and crafts from the area so colourful and multi layered. As it is my last day in the area, I find I am reluctant to leave this richly creative environment, trying to absorb as much as I can before I return to my studio. I stop before a quote by Nelson Mandela.

“The collision of culture does not necessarily lead to subjugation & hegemony. It may also lead to subtle cross-pollination of ideas, words, customs, art-forms, culinary & religious practices.
This dynamic interaction has always played a role in cultural enrichment which has resulted in an extraordinary fertile & unique South African culture which binds our nation in linguistic, cultural, culinary, & religious diversity in so many forms”.                                                                                                                                                           -Nelson Mandela

It strikes me that this place and the work that is being done here, is a perfect example of what Mandela was speaking about. There is a sense of good people helping other people in an atmosphere of unity and respect and to stay at the lodge is to experience a wonderful blend of cultures, all brought together in a very unique way.

Marcelle is constantly upgrading, renovating and developing the property, all the time keeping her eye on the bigger picture, which is to maintain high standards in ethical, community based tourism. This year, amongst many other things, she is embarking on a series of creative workshops, which will be held at the lodge and facilitated by well known South African artists. For participants this should be an absolute treat…to learn and be creative in a creative environment, whilst staying in the luxury of the lodge, spoiled by excellent service and surrounded by the peace and infinite beauty of the mountains.

The three days that we have spent here have left me rested, restored and inspired. It is the perfect end to a wonderful, enriching journey, and now it is time to go home to process all that I have seen and experienced.

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Dancing in Limpopo

One of the things that excites me most when traveling through Africa, is having an opportunity to watch traditional African dance. I am enthralled by the expressive nature of the dance, the uninhibited passion, colour and movement, which for an artist of any genre, provides heaps of inspiration.

So we are still on our travels through Limpopo and Petra, having been the cultural officer of Limpopo for many years, is the perfect person to travel with, as she knows so many good dance groups and is always able to introduce me to dance that I have never seen before. This province has a rich cultural heritage, so is a particularly good area to find amazing dancers with beautiful vibrant costume. On my last visit in 2009 I saw great examples of Tsonga dance, images of which are still clearly etched in my mind.

A swirl of fabric during a traditional Tsonga dance

A swirl of fabric during a traditional Tsonga dance

A Tsonga healer dances up a storm

A Tsonga healer dancing in a village near Tzaneen

This trip, Petra has arranged for us to visit a dance group in the village of  Mamaila, home of kgošhi (chief) Rhapahlelo. She does not know much about them, but was very impressed with their costumes when she saw them at a cultural festival some months ago, and has decided that this would be a good time to find out more. The leader of the group, Sarah Machete, is here to meet us and leads us to the local school where her group are all assembled.

Sarah Machete, a teacher and member of the dance group

Sarah Machete, a teacher and member of the dance group

We are introduced to the group of women, seated in colourful array upon the school chairs and are told that we are now in the company of the Kopanang Fighters! They are VaBirwa wa Raphahlelo, a Northern Sotho group, closely related to the Lobedu of the rain queen Modjadji fame.

I smile at the name they have given themselves, but looking at this group of fiercely proud Northern Sotho women, it certainly seems to fit. I sense that I am amongst empowered African women, who have identified a dream and are following it. The ladies are eager to share their story and Sarah recalls how it all began.

To begin with just a few women in the village got together to practice their traditional dance. They had no costumes and really just danced for recreation. Sarah, who is a teacher, used to see the group on her way to and from school. They encouraged her to join them, but Sarah says that she resisted, thinking “no, I am a teacher, I cannot do this dancing; this is for the illiterate women.” She also believed that she was too old and that her legs were too sore. However, she was persuaded, joined the group and found that the exercise was the best thing for her. Then they heard about competitions that were being held around the country and were encouraged to take part. Their first attempt failed, due to them not having proper shoes, so they went to a local businessman and performed in front of his shop to draw customers and he in turn bought takkies for the whole group. They took part in several more competitions, and though they didn’t win any prizes, they looked at those who were winning and made the necessary adjustments to their performance and dress.

The group began to grow as more women wanted to be a part of this positive and empowering initiative. Their costumes evolved from one show to the next and soon became the colourful uniform that it is to today. Despite the earlier disappointments, the women never gave up and after a particularly successful event at the Meropa Casino  in Polokwane, were soon winning all the prizes. Since then they have traveled far and wide and have performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, the State Theatre in Pretoria, at Parliament and even Robben Island. They have brought out a CD of their songs and dances and frequently receive requests to perform at important events. I am impressed by the group’s perseverance and determination to succeed and I now completely understand the significance of their name. These women have every reason to feel proud.

Their outfits are a colourful blend of Tsonga and Northern Sotho traditions, given a modern twist.

Click on the images below to get a feel of how feisty these ladies are!

It’s been a fun, interesting and inspiring morning and to crown it all before we leave, both Petra and I are presented with beautiful beaded head bands. I treasure my gift and will use it to remind me never to give up on my dreams.

The end of a happy morning, Petra and I are presented with beaded gifts

The end of a happy morning, Petra and I are presented with beaded gifts

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