The Domba Traditional Dance of Magical Venda in South Africa

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All roads lead to the Venda land annually. The trip to this magnificent place is gratifying. It took me about close to six hours from Johannesburg, which is 437 kilometres to actually set foot on the fine dusty roads of the Vhavenda tribe, well known as the Vhagona.

Having stayed at the Mashovela bush lodge which is located on the Louis Trichadt, Southpansberg Mountain, Makhado just near the magnificent view of the satisfactory mountains and the nature on its own was breath-taking. This lodge is divided into different rondavels that have their own fencing. The lodge is a few kilometres away from the shopping malls, banks, ATMs (automated teller machine), bars, post offices and the airport.

I hoped that this will be one of my best trips, yet scary too, considering the fact that most people believe that you have a 50/50 chance of making it back alive from this destination. I am on a journey to witness the annual Domba (python dance) traditional dance ceremony of the Venda tribe.

The Venda (Vhavenda or Vhangona) are a Southern African people living mostly near the South African-Zimbabwean border. The bantustan of Venda was created to become a homeland for the Venda people. The Venda people, like their Tsonga neighbours, are one of South Africa’s minority groups, they currently number 700 000 in Limpopo Province, while the Tsonga at their doorsteps number 900 000 people, also in Limpopo province.

Women of this tribe are taught to behave in a certain way, especially when addressing, greeting or giving food to the opposite gender. When handing over food to men, the woman needs to place the bowl on the floor or table and bow down. It is only once the man is happy with the food that the woman may get up and leave.

Women of this tribe are taught to behave in a certain way, especially when addressing, greeting or giving food to the opposite gender. When handing over food to men, the woman needs to place the bowl on the floor or table and bow down. It is only once the man is happy with the food that the woman may get up and leave.

The cultural practice also forbids women to look men in their eyes, especially when talking to a man. This, in turn, shows respect for the men and the elders. Only men are allowed to be the heads of the family units.

Married women are required by tradition to feed their husbands at all times, even when he comes back home late. She is expected to get a bowl of water and cloth for him to wash his hands and bow down after giving him his plate. She must wait for him to finish eating then takes away the dishes and wash them clean. She may only go to sleep when her husband notifies that it is okay for her to go to bed.

Young women are taught this practice from a tender age and they are required to learn from their mothers on how to behave in front of their husbands and elders.

The Domba (python dance) traditional dance is held once yearly at the Fundudzi lake, which lies between Thohoyando and Louise Trichadt. This is where the Venda women go for initiation.

At the initiation ceremonies, these women form a long sequence, singing and dancing around in a circle, holding each other’s elbows, wearing small aprons that cover the back and front with tasselled ornaments called the Thahu.

Only young women who have started their menstruation cycles and have been perceived as mature, strong woman are allowed to take part in the rituals. The significance of this is so that they can bring good luck for the next seasonal rain and the ritual is above all, their preparation for womanhood.

The Venda culture is built on a vibrant mythical belief system that water is an important theme. The tribe believes that rivers and lakes are sacred and that rains are controlled by the python God. One of the most sacred sites of the Venda is the Lake Fundudzi. Here annually, the Domber python dance is held. An offering of beer is poured into the lake and young maidens at the final stage of their initiation into womanhood line up in a single line and dance in long winding lines.

Trips to the lake are rarely granted to visitors, which is probably just as well as it is said to be infested with crocodiles. So sacred is the lake that the newcomers have to turn their backs on the lake and view the water from between their legs. The experience was very scary, especially when you are told the story behind what would happen and the past outcomes of the people who visited the same place.

Drums are often given personal names and are always played by women and girls, except in possession dances when a man may play them.

The drums form an important part of the Venda culture and symbols linked to them.

Women are seen as the pure people for their manner of respect towards people in and around the Limpopo province. The women here are very far different from any other culture; they will lie on the ground and greet you.

The Tshikanda ladies go to the lake once every year to perform rituals to thank the ancestors. They come out in large numbers and most of the time, the chief will be there to celebrate this awesome event with his/her people. In this specific culture, a chief can also be a woman. They believe woman can lead the throne because of their strong personality and respect, they are capable of leading the people. There are other rituals in this culture such as the Vhusha, where a girl needs to go for a virginity test as soon as she is considered mature and has started her cycle.

The beautiful Venda culture may go hand-in-hand with other South African cultures, mostly Zulu/Swati, where they also perform virginity rituals for young females called the Umhlanga/Reed dance. The dance celebrates her womanhood and at the ceremony, men attend the occasion particularly to pick a wife.

Being part of this wonderful ceremony, where you get to witness this old tradition is a fantastic experience, especially for a woman like myself. Being celebrated by the majority is something phenomenal and it is important to say that there is no other feeling like seeing a man respect and honour his woman.

Domba is a very sanctuary moment for the Venda people. They celebrate and embrace their culture and traditions, thus passing it down to generations to come.

If you want to see and experience this phenomenal culture, do remember to visit the North Eastern region of South Africa. You will learn to appreciate not only their culture, but the fine land and colour it brings.

I do have to say that there is nothing as fulfilling as being invited and experiencing this beautiful moment. The Venda culture is one that I truly love and respect.

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About Author

Lorraine is a South African based junior journalist with Nomad Africa magazine published by 2414 Publishing (Pty) Limited. She is very passionate about travelling and a lover of the African culture. Lorraine had a Diploma in Journalism from Rosebank College in Johannesburg, South Africa and worked as an intern with The Star Newspaper. Fluent in English and other South African languages she is very eager to learn about new cultures and traditions. Though she is still very new in the industry, Lorraine is vibrant and energetic for new travelling experiences.

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