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!
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.
(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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’.
Based on the literature survey conducted and written up by Heather Wares, extensive work has already taken place around the establishment of a National Heritage Site at Lake Fundudzi through SAHRA and other institutions. These processes have not resulted in community buy-in or support. The outcome is a stalled process. It is our intention that this current research project sheds light on where there are opportunities for consensus between the vested stakeholders. It is our belief that where there is consensus between stakeholders, there is also an opportunity for action. The challenge for initiative that want or need community support and engagement is finding common ground that meets diverse needs. This is what we are looking for!
Lusanda Ngcaweni will be conducting the field work with the support of a local field work assistant from the Lake Fundudzi region.She flew out last Saturday and will begin posting blogs from the field this week. We are all eager to see what she discovers, encounters and shares with us during the process!
For the past month, the ACHA project team has been preparing for the field work phase on the new Lake Fundudzi project funded by the National Heritage Council. A questionnaire to collect data in the field has been developed by Ian Durbach and Bantu Halam with input from the project team. It is currently being reviewed by an external reference group and will be finalised this week! A literature review by Heather Wares has been conducted to create a historical context for the field work and an experienced field work assistant from the area has been sourced to work with Lusanda Ngcaweni.The team will be coming together at the end of the week to finalise the preparations for the field work and Lusanda will be heading out to begin the process of collecting information. Make sure you stay tuned to find out more about the project as it unfolds!
Note: The picture in this post comes from the following website – http://limpopomirror.co.za/details/05-12-2011/heritage_status_for_lake_fundudzi/10127
ACHA has started to focus on a new project for the National Heritage Council! It a research project focused on developing a heritage site management plan proposal for Lake Fundudzi in Limpopo. This is part of the team that will be tackling our exciting new journey – Ian Durbach, Heather Wares and Bantu Halam. Ian and Bantu are statistical experts that have joined the team to design a meaningful and responsive quantitative survey of the area. Heather is a historian specialising in Maritime Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) – she has joined the team to provide a historical context and overview of the area.