Venda People and their Pottery
Venda means "world" or "land" and as such refers to the traditional home of the VhaVenda people most of whom live in the Limpopo Province, northern South Africa.
The Venda people live in an area that is mountainous and rich in vegetation, often unapproachable. They value their privacy and keep traditional rituals that are considered secret. They don't get many visitors but they are friendly people, if secretive. They inhabit the region of Limpopo that borders Zimbabwe, where the Shashe and Vhembe rivers meet to the north and west of Makhado.
Under the apartheid system their lands were designated a “homeland”, reserved for and governed by black inhabitants. Therefore, they were fairly uninfluenced by the political and social changes that had such a massive affect on the rest of the country. The one million strong Vhavenda population were left alone to live the way they had for hundreds of years in this lush, mountainous and remote region, which is why their culture, language, arts and crafts have survived so strongly.
The abundance of clay in certain parts of Venda sees a lot of pottery coming out of that region. It is a skill passed on through generations from mother to daughter.
The Venda potters who used commercial gloss paint in the mid twentieth century are returning to more natural looking decoration. As a country emerging from the legacy of Apartheid, older traditions of making are maintained as a matter of cultural identity. In Venda, large vessels in the shape of a female figure are popular, and as in Western depictions of women as water carriers, they are usually nude. However, the strong prevalence of Christianity in the area, as cultivated by missionary influence also encourage dressed female figures as seen below.
Photo and extracts from www.uwic.ac.uk )
Clay pots and dishes, which are modelled and fired with wood and grass have also always had the practical uses of being cooking pots, storing of traditional beer and water as well as for drinking. They range from very small, cup-like sizes to very tall ornamental pots. The pots are decorated using Luvhundi (red ochre soil) and Phomo (graphite)
Types of traditional Venda clay items offered here are:
mvuvhelo, pots/bowls - for keeping drinking water, traditional beer, mutuku
ndilo, dish - open plate-like used for eating
khavho, with a handle (ladle) and is used for drinking and handling liquid
Culture and Beliefs
The Vhavenda culture is built on a vibrant mythical belief system, which is reflected in their artistic style. Water is an important theme to the Vhavenda and there are many sacred sites within their region where the Vhavenda conjure up their ancestral spirits. They believe zwidutwane, water spirits, live at the bottom of waterfalls. The Vhavenda take offerings of food to them because they can not grow things underwater.
One of the Venda's most sacred sites is Lake Fundudzi. If you want to try the trek into the mountains to get there you must first ask permission from the chief. 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.