Venda: “Land of Legend”
Art and culture of a region in the north of South Africa
Two exhibitions in Amsterdam and in Zoetermeer:
From August to October 2005, there has been organised an exhibition of wood carving from Venda. In the Venda-area more than 40 pieces of art from 13 artists have been collected, among whom Richard Mangoma, Owen Ndou, Albert Munyai, Aswimpheli Magoro, Jackson Hlungwani, Avashoni Mainganye, and the renowned Noria Mabasa.
The painter Friederike Kimmerle, who lives and works in Zoetermeer and on the Spanish island La Palma, is busy to engage in a dialogue with Venda-art. Some of her paintings from this area of her work have been exhibited.
To this exhibition a collection of craft from Southern Africa has been added. This has been done because in Africa arts and craft are often presented together.
During the last week of the exhibition one of the Venda-artists, Avashoni Mainganye, has given demonstrations of the making of art and also of the teaching to students in the style of the area.
‘Duze Nomshikashika – A choir in South African style’ has sung during the final event of the exhibition in Amsterdam
From the end of October to December 2005, this exhibition with
some additional pieces has been shown in the Municipal museum in the Dorpsstraat
The demonstrations of Avashoni Mainganye and the singing of ‘Duze Nomshikashika’ have taken place in Zoetermeer during the first week resp. at the opening event of the exhibition.
In connection with the Venda-exhibition a special Africa-day has been organised in the Municipal museum Zoetermeer on December 4, 2005.
Short information about the Venda area in South Africa:
Venda is an area in the north of the Republic of South Africa. It belongs to the Limpopo-province and extends nearly up to the border with Zimbabwe. The eastern border is formed by the northern part of the Kruger National Park with its impressive ‘wildlife’. The very attractive landscape is determined by the mountains of the Zoutpansberg, which take their course from east to west through the middle of this area. South to this mountain-range there is during the two rainy seasons enough humidity for a rich vegetation and farming: mango- and avocado-plantations, tea-plantations as well as cattle-keeping and growing of corn and vegetables. North to the Zoutpansberg it is very dry; the vegetation is poor and people are taking the greatest pain to make a living by keeping some goats and cultivate small gardens alongside the rivers. Near to some hot springs there are small tourist centres.
The people of Venda, the VhaVenda, have come many generations ago from the north to the dwelling area of today, and they can trace back the history of their migrations to the region of the Great Lakes (Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Victoria). In recent time the VhaVenda have fought a long while and successfully against the Boers who were advancing from the south. During the Apartheid-period Venda was a so-called homeland and had within South Africa the status of an own republic with Thohoyandou as capital. The men who were able to work often were absent for long periods of time working under unworthy conditions in the mines near to Johannesburg and in the industry not far off from there.
A relatively big part of the people has accepted the Christian religion. Besides the churches founded by European missionaries, there are mostly charismatic congregations, which belong to the ‘Penticostal movement’ or are similar to it. But also the traditional African religions are still very much alive and often have merged with Christian beliefs. “Venda magic is very powerful”, is often said by the VhaVenda. Lake Funduzi of which is said that many human beings live in there after death as fishes, and the wood nearby where the leaders and the powerful kings of the VhaVenda are buried, are still holy places for all inhabitants of the region. Fishes and serpents play an important role in the religious imaginations of the VhaVenda. The sense of community is very much developed and concedes the leading men of the families, clans and villages and, before all, the mighty kings dominant positions. That does not mean, however, that not also the women who are responsible for the family life and the family economy show themselves as self-conscious.
Religious imaginations as fishes and serpents, evil and good spirits, scenes of belonging together in the community, beautiful women, but also animals or the coming home of a mine-worker to his family form favourite motives of the art of carving. The form of trunks and branches as they are found in nature is often well recognisable in the pieces of art. Except the very expressive forms also the structure of the wood, especially of the often-used wood with two colours, is very characteristic for the many small, bigger or even monumental pieces of carving. Besides that, very beautiful daily requisites of wood or pottery are produced. And there are some centres of the art of weaving where cloths and dresses with clearly African, but at the same time very special motives and colours of the VhaVenda are made.
Not much research is done after the philosophy of the VhaVenda. Some studies exist of professors from the University of Venda on philosophy in proverbs and on folk-stories. With regard to the last ones the ‘ngani’ are especially interesting. These are stories, which women tell to women and which are similar to the animal-fables of Esopus. With the VhaVenda storytellers, however, also human beings appear in their fables. Rather often they express some hidden critique of social relations and especially of the dominant position of men. The philosophy in proverbs can be made clear by the following examples. Often used and very characteristic is the proverb: “Human beings are like elephants, they eat many trees.” In this proverb is expressed: Firstly, the dependence of humans from much and varied food, then, an allusion to the many sexual partners whom VhaVenda men often have, and finally, in a general or even universal sense a reference to the power of humans which lies in their prudence and in the ability and the necessity to choose from many possibilities. Deep philosophical wisdom is also expressed in the Venda-proverb: “The mouth is louder than the big drum” and its interpretation on different levels. Here is shown in an illustrative and concentrated manner that human language ‘from mouth to ear’ is superior to the messages of the drum, which can be heard from a distance, because it makes possible a more intimate and more differentiated communication. The mouth is also more powerful than the big drum, because humans do not only have language by which messages are transferred, moreover they are language in an essential meaning of the word, as they can speak to each other and listen to each other.
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