Sophie Winton, ACHA’s archaeologist at large, is back with an update from Hoi An

Field Notes: Vietnam Training in Underwater Archaeology

Week 2 Wrap Up


Field school life has settled into a busy but steady rhythm and the second week of training flew by! The trainees have been split into 4 teams and have been working on various projects under the guidance of their team leaders and supervision of the trainers. Some of these projects are under water while others are taking place around Hoi An.

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Underwater search and recording methods

The shallow, sheltered waters of Cu Lao Cham provide relatively safe training grounds for new divers; except for when curious tourist boats come a little too close to diving operations or the Vietnamese military schedules artillery target practice! Despite these disruptions, the teams have been steadily improving their underwater communication, search and recording skills in areas of high underwater cultural heritage potential that were identified during the previous field season. This week, teams re-located and recorded a stone anchor, possibly of Arabic origin, and nearby ceramic scatter in shallow water.

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Ethnographic boat building

One way to better understand what we are searching for underwater, is to spend time with local boat builders to study the methods and materials that are used for constructing local vessels. This is also a great opportunity to get to know some of the locals and in doing so, learn more about local culture and possibly new sites to investigate. The teams spent time at various boat-building yards, recording interviews with the workers and the boats that were being built or repaired.

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Shipwreck ceramics

As mentioned above, we have found some ceramics on the beach and in shallow waters around Cu Lao Cham. Some of these ceramics have been tentatively dated to about 3000 BP! Ceramics are an indicator of the type and level of trade that has taken place in the region and so it is important for us to be able to identify and record them in as much detail as possible. The Hoi An Centre for Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation has a collection of shipwreck ceramics from archaeological and salvage operations in Vietnam and we were given access to them to study. This gave me flashbacks of first year archaeology where I was horrified to learn that LICKING the artefact is one way to ascertain what type of ceramic it is! Luckily, such drastic measures were not necessary in this instance and instead, we spent time honing our drawing skills, describing the artefacts in a database and practicing the 3D photogrammetry that Ian has been teaching us.

Foreign traders in Hoi An

Hoi An was a major center for trade between the 16th and 19th centuries, attracting traders from India, China, Japan, Portugal, England, Holland and more. The built environment of the Ancient Town bears testament to this period, as do the tombs of the foreign traders that can be found on the outskirts of town. We were tasked with locating and recording some of these tombs; a task that was easier said than done for some teams! We spent a rather hot morning trooping through the rice paddies in search of the elusive “third tomb” and learned some very important lessons in planning!


We were joined this week by Jun Kimura from Tokai University in Japan. A long-time partner in the VMAP, Jun is an expert in Asian anchor development and the evolution of shipbuilding technology. He presented two enlightening talks on Asian anchors and the 12 / 13th century wrecks in East Asia and Southeast Asia, and joined the dive teams at the stone anchor site.

Saturday is our day off and (ever the archaeology nerds) we visited My Son, the ancient Cham religious site, 60kms from Hoi An. Between the 4th and 14th centuries, this valley was the religious center for Champa kings and ruling dynasties, who constructed temples to worship the Hindu god, Shiva. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the temple complex at My Son is widely regarded as being one of the principal historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia, not to mention the paramount heritage site of its kind in Vietnam. Despite being abandoned and engulfed by the forest in the 14th century, then bombed during the American War, the temples that remain have a powerful presence over the landscape.

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To round off the week, Sunday was spent in lectures on some of the theory behind underwater cultural heritage management and museology, presented by Mark and Sally. Clyde presented a case study on the management proposal for the World War II wrecks at Subic Bay, Philippines (giving me another reason to return to that part of the world as soon as possible) and the teams caught up on some admin, sleep and pool time. Rested and refreshed (mostly…) we’re ready for week 3!


Follow the project’s Facebook page daily updates from the field!

Many thanks to everyone for their photos J

  • Sophie

Sophie Winton, reporter at large, writes from Hoi An, Vietnam

Field Notes: Vietnam Training in Underwater Archaeology
Greetings from Hoi An, Vietnam!

Hoi An riverfront by night 

I am here with a group of over 30 participants from 10 countries who have come together for the Vietnam Training in Underwater Archaeology. This 4 week field school is being hosted by the Institute for Archaeology and is supported and funded by SEAMEO SPAFA and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE). UNESCO has granted its patronage to the project. 
I am thrilled to be representing ACHA at this field school. 
The team poses for a photo after the Opening Ceremony. Trainers and trainees come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Australia, the Netherlands, Hungary and South Africa. 

The 2015 training is the eighth fieldwork training and research season to have been conducted in Vietnam since 2008 by an interdisciplinary, international team of researchers, research associates, students and trainers. These initiatives take place under the auspices of the Vietnam Maritime Archaeology Project Centre (VMAPC). The VMAPC “is dedicated to supporting the Vietnam government and Vietnamese people in building maritime archaeology to investigate, protect and preserve maritime and underwater cultural heritage. VMAPC conducts research, education and training about the importance of Vietnamese maritime and underwater cultural heritage.”
A view of Cu Lau Cham where we have been doing some orientation dives ahead of next week’s survey projects 

We are at the end of the first week, which has mainly revolved around getting to know one another, exploring Hoi An and getting organized for the survey projects that we will be starting next week. Some participants have been completing their PADI Open Water Diver courses while others have been refreshing their diving skills in the waters around Cu Lau Cham. 

Check back next week for another update and follow the project’s Facebook page for more information 
Special thanks to Ian McCann for all the images!

UNESCO UNITWIN Underwater Archaeology – by Luvuyo Ndzuzo


2nd Workshop on Underwater Archaeology for African Countries (12 – 23 May 2015) in Kemer (Turkey)

Purpose: the purpose of this document is to highlight some of the activities of the 2nd Workshop on Underwater Archaeology as outlined in program. Furthermore the document seeks to show the interventions that UNESCO hopes to make in relation to Underwater Archaeology.

Background: part of the build up to the 50th meeting on Underwater Archaeology in Paris at UNESCO South Africa joined in the number of member states that signed the Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage of 2001. South Africa is one of the countries that have a long history of ship wrecks and have less Underwater Archaeology studies in the recent past fits the requirement UNESCO’s areas of intervention. With a coast line of about 2300 kilometers and more than a hundred ship wrecks around the Cape of storms. In the same vein there are very few underwater Archaeologists in the mandated institution of the Heritage regulator namely; South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). The workshop was offered as a platform for capacity building for African countries.

Host: Selcuk University, Turkey supported by the central government through the Department of Culture and Tourism, the Turkey UNESCO National council and various partners. The hosting professor Dr. Hakan Oniz spearheaded all the logistical issues together with his team based in the new center in Kemer.

UNESCO: represented by the head of the secretariat of the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage Dr. Ulrike Guerin, editor of the Manual for Activities directed at Underwater Cultural Heritage. She was supported by the able Arturo Da Silva as organizer and facilitator.

Lecturers and tuition: leading intellectuals in the field of Underwater Archaeology offered lectures based on their work and experience. A variety of topics and areas of study in the field were ably presented. This group of scholars carefully demonstrated the key principles of Underwater Archaeology. This laid the foundation for the work that must be done underwater when diving on wrecks and submerged sites. New forms of examining Underwater Cultural Heritage were also presented and it was emphasized that these do not substitute the traditional forms of examining archaeological sites.

The central issue of the workshop revolved around the “in situ preservation issue. Dr. Ulrike Guerin of UNESCO presented a lecture that paved the way for a better understanding of the in situ principle as articulated by UNESCO. Scholars added to the issue by presenting some of the key issues of the in situ principle debate. Ideas like excavation and intrusive measures of Underwater Archaeology were brought forward.

Diving lessons and practice were organized in the second week where two important ideas were taught. The idea of safety underwater was taught, in the main, by Diving Network specialists who offered lessons on diver first aid procedures and the elimination of bubbles in the blood circulation system. The second part of the diving lessons revolved around making use of Underwater Archaeology techniques. Techniques such as photography, measuring, drawing and cleaning the site were put to practice.

Ceremonies: Organizers hosted a welcome gala dinner for the participants. It was supported by the ministry of Culture and Tourism. Here there was good representation from the national council of UNESCO in Turkey. A certification ceremony was organized at the end of the second week. Here both UNESCO and Selcuk University handed participation certificates to all participants.

Two outings were organized over the two weekends; one was a tour of the ancient city called Clup Phaselis and the other were tours of Antalya Aquarium and Antalya Museum.

Conclusion: the workshop better equipped participants in dealing with issues of Archaeological importance. The logistical arrangements were anchored at the new center in Kemer under the leadership of Dr. Hakan Oniz. It was a diverse and well connecting session of the affected disciplines. This workshop afforded me the grand opportunity of coming into contact with practitioners from the continent and leading scholars in the field. I am thankful RIM and the South African state party for this opportunity.

Complex Histories, Multiple Voices

Written by Heather Wares

IMG_5131In Venda mythology, there is a legendary drum, said to have been made powerful by the ‘God’ Mwali, which when sounded before a battle ensured the demise of the enemy. Mwali is said to have been a king who communicated with the people through a high priest. Before speaking, the drum of Mwali would sound releasing its spiritual powers. The legend goes that because of fighting among his subjects, Mwali punished the people by sounding the drum loudly, resulting in the death of many people. With continued strife, eventually Mwali is said to have left to live under the earth. On his leave, a smaller drum with the same name, was given to his son Tshilume and possessed the same magic and killing power of the big drum used by Mwali himself.[1]

In a time of human migration from North to South, it is this legendary magic and killing power of the drum that continued to surface within oral histories, explaining the force and power that leaders like Dimbanyika had when usurping territory from the Southern chiefdoms. It is also said that the original inhabitants of the country surrendered freely because of the fear instilled by the reputation of the drum for killing many previous communities merely by it being sounded.[2] Any battle lost was attributed to the drum falling to the ground, which was forbidden, or being stolen by rival chiefdoms.

IMG_4504The story of Dimbanyika and the sacred drum of Mwali illustrate how a historical narrative can be told in various ways. Venda history is complex, encompassing migration, mythology and the importance of deep rooted belief systems in the recounting of this history. It brings to the fore the importance of engaging with communities in a way that allows people to express their own historical narrative in their own way. So often histories are told through the official documentation and from the perspective of those in power at the time it is written. Although official records are useful and often a good starting point for historical research, as I found out with the research for this project, it often silences the voices of the individual community members. One of the objectives of the Lake Fundudzi Management Project was to collect these silenced narratives to better understand how the various villages regarded Lake Fundudzi within their own histories and belief systems. Was it a site of natural beauty, a site of historical importance, a sacred site or merely an important natural resource?

The approach to collecting these narratives was a relatively unique one in the case of heritage management strategies. A questionnaire was designed and then circulated in the various villages by practiced field workers. The answers were collated to provide quantifiable statistics which would inform a potential heritage management plan. To pull this off a team of individuals from varied expertise and backgrounds came together. This multi-disciplinary or multi-perspective approach created a platform from which innovative ways of thinking could emerge. As with any innovation, there were challenges which accompanied this approach. With many of the team members not from heritage backgrounds, in order to prepare the team to achieve the best possible outcome, my role as the historian providing a historical context became more central. I saw my role not only as providing an historical context of Venda and Lake Fundudzi but also how the heritage field had been involved. It is with this in mind that I first approached my role as historical researcher for the project.

It was clear from the beginning that there was a logical place to begin my digging, the registry at the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). My first encounter with Lake Fundudzi was in 2011 when I started working at SAHRA. One of my first assignments was to assist in the organisation of a public participation workshop in a town close to the Lake. I found myself entering into the last stages of a 15 year process of the declaration of a National Heritage site. My decision to begin with official records soon sparked a second decision, to start from the present and walk my way into the past. Better to start with the familiar with what I soon realised would lead me into a complex history of migration, settlement, and most glaring, conflict over territorial ownership and political leadership.

IMG_5072Through the public participation workshop I had experienced firsthand, albeit through a translator, the complexities of the issue of ownership surrounding Lake Fundudzi. The SAHRA records painted a similar picture, most interesting were the written objections submitted in the last few weeks of the process, after the official intention to declare Lake Fundudzi a National Heritage Site had been announced. These objections revealed strong opinions of the Lake being a sacred site of the Vhatavhatsindi royal family, a place to perform burial rituals and to communicate with the ancestors. The main argument of these objections was the incompatibility of a heritage site and a sacred site, stating that no sacred site could be a heritage site as it would be disrespectful to the ancestors. This posed many questions for myself and the team: why were these objections only surfacing now after all of the proper processes of public participation and allowances for objections had been followed? Which leaders and communities had been included in the consultation process? How do I better understand the leadership and ownership conflicts of the area? And where do belief systems fit into a historical context?

These questions lead me to start looking into the human history of Limpopo in general and Venda more specifically. As I read more, I began to realise just how complex Venda history is. The history was also difficult to follow as it was not presented as a linear history on a timeline. Rather the history was told as a series of significant events and achievements of leaders. It is this which has prompted, too often, the disregard of these historical accounts in official histories as they were deemed unreliable. Another feature of historical narratives, often recounted through the oral tradition, is the intertwining of mythology and history. The story of the drum of Mwali demonstrates this well, with the defeat of the great Dimbanyika explained by the drum falling to the ground. By attributing his defeats to the anger of a God-like power, the legendary power and strength of the leader is kept intact. Without rituals and taboos followed, the magic of the drum was evoked and the power shifted from one leader to another, explaining succession.

IMG_4644A respect for rituals and taboos seemed to be a constant theme throughout my research. It is here that it is important to point out that at first Lake Fundudzi was nominated as a natural heritage site, and only later as a cultural heritage site. This connecting of environment and culture is an interesting concept, as in other parts of South Africa it is clear that these are often seen as one and the same. When looking into research papers on Limpopo, Venda and Lake Fundudzi, it seemed that the environmental importance of the Lake and other natural environments such as waterfalls and forests started to influence cultural belief systems and the rituals performed. The argument to explain this states that in order to protect the natural resource from degradation, leaders introduced taboos and rituals restricting access or over use. Understanding this connection between nature and culture, gives insight into the strong place cultural belief systems and taboos have in the telling of a history and the governing of a territory.

The purpose of this short insert has not been to recount these various and conflicting histories, there is simply not enough space to do the history justice. It has been rather to make a comment, through my own experience, on the complexities and importance of historical research in a project such as this one. Although official records are available, I soon realised that even these were limited. In order to give the project team as informed a historical context as possible it was important to delve into the way in which local perspectives were produced. Understanding the way in which a historical narrative through oral history within Venda tradition is recounted, with non-linear timelines, the use of mythology and the interweaving of nature and culture, would best serve the team in the field. In this way they would have better insight into how and why local perspectives are produced. This in turn would help the team design an effective research tool in the way of a questionnaire which could result in deeper and possibly more accurate data. Of course I had no way of knowing if this would be the case or if I had taken the correct approach. As I handed my written historical context over and met with the various team members to talk them through my research, I hoped I had sufficiently prepared them.

[1] A.G. Schutte. Mwali in Venda, 112.

[2] A.G. Schutte. Mwali in Venda, 113.

Talking about Sustainable Heritage

20141031_121027On October 31st, ACHA hosted a round table event focused  sustainable heritage resource management. A number of heritage industry practitioners joined the event and actively participated in the discussions that took place during the morning. The purpose of the event was share ACHA’s experience during the recent Lake Fundudzi project. Lake Funduzi has recently been declared a National Heritage Site for the country by SAHRA and it is important that such a declaration is supported by an effective management plan. The purpose of this event was to explore the potential implications for sustainable heritage resource management based on the project findings and the experience of the project team during the process and to make recommendations for the site management going forward.

The round table event began with a presentation from Jonathan Sharfman, the Director of ACHA and Robert Parthesius, the Director of CIE. Their comments encouraged participants to share their personal experiences in the field with one another during the session! They were followed by a panel of presentations from the project team. Heather Wares discussed the important of creating a historical context for such work by reviewing relevant background documentation. Lusanda Ngacaweni shared her experience of conducting the field work in the Lake Fundudzi catchment area, highlighting significant practical and theoretical considerations for meaningful field work of this nature. The third presentation was by Ian Durbach, He presented his perspective on the significance of including quantitative data into work of this nature and how to go about the process in a meaningful manner. The panel concluded with a presentation by Jonathan Sharfman outlining recommendations and potential strategies that would support sustainable heritage resource management based on his professional experience in the field and work through ACHA.

Following the panel of presentations, the group engaged in creative conversations around each of the four areas that featured. They looked at historical context, field work, data and strategy. The purposed of their conversations were to make specific recommendations that would support future work in these areas going forward. It was an exciting, information rich and at times emotionally charged conversation!

“Shooting at the Moon?”

Out very first ACHA publication is being released tomorrow during our round table event in Cape Town, The focus is on shaping the heritage agenda in the country by engaging in what sustainable heritage resource management can be. The ACHA team involved in the Lake Fundudzi project funded by the National Heritage Council will be sharing their experiences from this project with the participants. We look forward to having rich and meaningful discussions with fellow practitioners 🙂


Statistical Story telling: Lake Fundudzi

Authored by: Ian Durbach

We’ve just wrapped up the final analysis of the data collected during the fieldwork component of the Lake Fundudzi project. As some of the previous posts have pointed out, the data collection was not without its challenges. Despite these, or maybe because of them, the results we’ve found are exciting, and tell a story that is clear without being, we think, overly simplistic. From the perspective of a statistician who has worked a lot with survey data, I’ve never seen such a consistent picture emerging. Every single person we spoke to was in favour of the declaration of Lake Fundudzi as a heritage site. Ordinary people in the area overwhelmingly see it as a means of economic upliftment. They are clear that unemployment is a massive concern, and given even our simple questions around economic activity it isn’t hard to see why. Unemployment in our sample is around 80%. More than half of households have no breadwinners. More than 90% of our respondents receive government grants, often as their sole source of income.

IMG_5080Intertwined with the main thread of this story though, is the story of the cultural significance of Lake Fundudzi. Of course it is much easier to express economic needs, which have to do with visible outcomes like food, roads, and water, than cultural ones, so one has to look a little bit harder for the signs, but not too hard. Only 10% of the people explicitly said the lake was culturally important to them, but this is something of a red herring, we think. Double that number voiced concerns that development may anger ancestors, and many more said that the ancestors would not be angered, but only because it was taken as given that they would be consulted first. Half of all respondents said that previous disagreements had concerned disrespecting the sacred nature of the lake. Nearly everyone said that the lake “needed protection”.

Thus while there is an unmistakable need for economic development in an area with little other immediate prospects for achieving this, any development must be done responsibly, with a clear understanding of the significance of the Lake for people in the vicinity. Quite how this is to be done can only be decided in consultation with those living in the area. But we are hoping that we might have, found some way of starting this process, by showing leaders in the area that, despite all the past disagreements and delays in deciding the future of Lake Fundudzi, there is, among the people themselves, a remarkably consistent set of desires.


Welcome back!


The ACHA team involved in the Lake Fundudzi Management Plan project welcomed back a triumphant (if not travel weary) Lusanda from her 3 week expedition through all the villages in the Lake Fundudzi catchment area. We met for most of the day on Saturday to look at pictures and hear her stories about being in the field, the people she met, the situations encountered and exploring emerging themes around this very important and sensitive landmark in South Africa. It was a very successful field work trip! Lusanda will be working on her field work report for the next week or so and Ian Durbach will be analysing the data collected through the data collection tool that the team created for the purpose of this project. It is going to interesting to see what information emerges from the data analysis process and the field work reflection report!

I finally did it, grin and all


A view of Lake Fundudzi on an overcast morning in Tshiheni village

Last week I expressed my disappointment at not being expected to observe the traditional greeting of the chieftaincy by Venda women. No sooner had I lamented my exclusion from observing this custom did I find myself lying on the floor, on my side, in a semi-foetal position, with my hands  together, before a chief.

I had given up on this happening so I was caught completely off guard when I was just about tackled in an attempt to prevent me from shaking the chief’s hand. Before you judge me, let me assure you that I know better than to approach a chief in his homestead to shake his hand, but there were extenuating circumstances.

You see, after the haunched humming, people (Ramudingane, the chief’s advisor, the headman and the chief) started shaking hands. This had not been done during our prior meetings with chiefs, so, unsure what to do, I decided to follow Ramudingane’s lead. I too shook the advisor’s hand, then the headman’s. As I moved my extended hand from the headman to the chief, the headman leapt in between us, hurled himself on to the floor, and demonstrated what I was to do.

Ramudingane started to protest on my behalf (I had asked him about this form of greeting on my first day here, and he said it was only expected of Venda women), but I was on the floor before the words fully formed in his mouth. I couldn’t believe I was finally doing it! I was on the floor just like the Venda women I’d seen on television. Except I was all teeth. I couldn’t wipe the humongous grin off my face. At least I wasn’t giggling, which would not have come as a surprise because its not uncommon for me to giggle at the most inopportune times.


Re-enacting the greeting; I hope I did a better job than this with the chief!

(Something that has had me giggling for days now though is a chat I had with Ramudingane on our way back from one of the villages. I was asking him about the traditional attire of Venda women. He said if I was interested in getting something he would go with me into town to shop around. I told him I had seen some outfits through a shop window, and that I’d also seen them being sewn and sold by street vendors. The second those last two words passed my mouth I was sniggering uncontrollably. I know its silly (read childish), but it gets me every time. [For those who don’t get my ‘humour’, the words ‘street vendors’ only started being funny when I was using them here in Venda.] Tee hee)

Back to the long-awaited traditional greeting, I could see on their faces that the chief and the headman really appreciated my effort. I’m sure the advisor did too, but my back was to him so I couldn’t see his face.

The grin on my face was eventually wiped off a few hours later when Ramudingane and I had to abandon our bakkie on our way to another village because the alleged ‘road’ was so bad. We trekked up the steepest hill, in the scorching heat, with me in flipflops, for 46 minutes! Only to find that the village we were headed to only had two homesteads, one of which had two occupants, the other of which nobody lives in anymore.

We learned that this village used to be like any other village, with plenty of homes spread out over a large area. But the impossible roads (that 4×4 enthusiasts would love) and the remoteness of this village had over the years driven all but one family out and in to the surrounding villages. There wasn’t even a sign of other homesteads ever having been there.

The only occupants of this village – a daughter and her elderly mother – made the trek worth it though. We had such a lovely visit with them. And they turned out to be relatives of Ramudingane that he didn’t even know existed!


After the tough trek we had a lovely visit with Ramudingane’s long lost relatives

We’ve managed to visit eight villages in eight days, receiving a warm welcome in each home. Even the people we are clearly disturbing by our unannounced visits have not shown even the slightest hint of annoyance; instead  immediately stopping whatever they are doing to sit and answer our long list of questions. My favourite visits have been with the elderly and the younger generation. We were fortunate in one village to interview two young men in their early twenties, together with their grandparents, in one session.


Interviewing this family was one of the highlights of my week

Oh, and I finally saw Lake Fundudzi! I gasped when I saw it. And I continue to gasp every time I see it. Every time. It’s breathtaking. Breathtaking. (Fellow Seinfeld aficionados will appreciate this description from ‘The Hamptons’/Breathtaking baby episode) Pity my photographs don’t do the lake justice.


A view of Lake Fundudzi from the road to Tshitangani and Sindande villages


A view of Lake Fundudzi from Tshiheni village

Careful what you (don’t) wish for

On the other side of this hill lies Lake Fundudzi

On the other side of this hill in Tshivha lies Lake Fundudzi

Fully aware that I was going into an area that is steeped in tradition, the singular thing I was most nervous about (and extremely uncomfortable with) going into this project was the protocol involved when greeting traditional leaders. I have seen on television how women prostrate themselves in front of the chieftaincy in greeting. All hopes that this practice was only expected of local women was dashed by a colleague, who told me that she had to lie on the floor a couple of times when greeting traditional leaders during a past visit to the area.

After much prayer and supplication I was at peace with it. I actually started to imagine myself lying on the floor, on my side, in a semi-foetal position, with my hands  together. By the time I left for Limpopo it was no longer an issue. I had mentally prepared myself to ‘do as the Vendas do’.

As it happened, the first appointment on the morning after my arrival was with Chief Netshiavha (of Tshiavha village) and his advisers. Of all the villages surrounding Lake Fundudzi, the Tshiava royal family is the only one that practices rituals in the lake.

Me, Ramudingane, Queen (Nemakonde's colleague), 5th from the left is Chief Netshiavha,

Lusanda, Ramudingane, Queen (Nemakonde’s colleague), Chief Netshiavha (5th from the left), Nemakonde (3rd from the right), the chief’s entourage, and Dog

Prior to my arrival, my chaperone-cum-translator-cum-research assistant, Edward Ramudingange had informed the local economic development manager, Nemakonde about the project. Nemakonde set up meetings for us with the relevant chiefs so that we could inform them about the project and request permission to conduct interviews in their villages. His laying of the groundwork was really appreciated as it played a big role in speeding up the consultation process. To quote Nemakonde, “When you do things smart the result will be smart.” Smart move too on Ramudingane’s part to contact him in the first place.

Me and Edward Ramudingane

Lusanda and Ramudingane

So ready was I for the prostration that I wore my darkest sarong. (I’ve learnt from past projects where I’ve spent weeks doing field work in rural villages that the easiest things to pack/wear/wash are sarongs and tops. In the sarongs I have a sensible skirt, scarf, shawl, head wrap and shade – all in one.)

When we entered the chief’s kraal we were shown into an empty rondaval and offered chairs. This was unexpected as I’ve seen on television women sit on the floor while only the men took chairs. As I was about to sit on a chair Nemakonde stopped me and directed me to another chair. Only then did I notice that the chair I was about to sit on was the only one in the room that had a leopard print cloth over it. I nearly sat on the chief’s chair!

Some minutes later four men entered the room.  Everybody who was already inside sprung off their chairs and got on their haunches, hands together, and started murmuring something I could not decipher. I did the same, except the sounds coming out of my mouth were more humming (with lips moving) than murmuring. During the haunched murmuring, which seemed to last forever, I remember thinking, “Thank God I started exercising again last week after many many months or there is no way I would be able to stay on my haunches for this long!”)

We had a very productive meeting, where it was agreed that later in the week we would consult with the Lake Fundudzi steering committee, which is made up of representatives from some of the villages surrounding the lake.

The following day we were scheduled to meet another chief, so I wore another dark sarong in preparation for the prostration. Unbeknownst to me, he was the paramount chief, Chief Kennedy Tshivhase! I needn’t have bothered with the dark sarong because again there was neither prostration nor sitting on the floor for me. I was wiser this time though; when the chief walked in I was on my haunches, hands together and humming at the same time as everybody else in the room. Except they were praise singing (I still couldn’t make out what they were saying), not humming.

Nemakonde, Queen, me, Paramount Chief Tshivhase, Ramudingane

Nemakonde, Queen, Lusanda, Paramount Chief Kennedy Tshivhase, Ramudingane

That consultation meeting also went very well. Chief Tshivhase welcomed me and said he would inform the traditional council, which was sitting the following day, about the research project and my presence in the area.

After the final consultation, which was with the steering committee, I was more than ready to begin the interviews. And to finally see Lake Fundudzi, which I had only heard about and seen in pictures. The closest I’ve gotten to it is a view of a hill from Tshiavha village, behind which lies the lake.

Me, Chief Netshiavha, members of the Lake Fundudzi steering committee, ward councillors, Ramudingane

Lusanda, Chief Netshiavha, members of the Lake Fundudzi steering committee, ward councillors and Edward Ramudingane

It was only at the end of the consultation period that it dawned on me that I was disappointed that I was not required to observe the traditional greeting of the chieftaincy. I had not realised I had been looking forward to it until I was denied the opportunity. A classic case of, ‘careful what you wish for’. But in my case it was more like, ‘careful what you don’t wish for!’.