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African Art  - Art Africain - Tribal Art -  菲洲艺术 - Afrikanische Kunst

 

Central and Southern African Tribal Art

 

 

   

 

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The Venda - VhaVenda

Vhavgona - Vhavhenda - Vhenda - Ba Venda - VhaNgona - Vhavenda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Venda

 

         Venda History              

 

The Ba Venda (Vhavgona - Vhavhenda - Vhenda- VhaVenda) are a Bantu tribe living in Southern Africa. The Mapungubwe Kingdom emerged in the 9th century. According to historical studies, King Shiriyadenga was the first king of Mapungubwe and Venda, who united the two and formed Vhavgona or Vhavhenda.

 

   

 

The Bantu Tribes of South Africa -  A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

As with most of the other tribal peoples of Southern Africa, the Venda migrated southwards from Central Africa. They are regarded to be one of the last black groups to have crossed the Limpopo River. They first settled in the Soutpansberg Mountains.

 

 

Traditional South African Venda region demarcated in yellow.

 

 Venda history is closely related to the history of their successive sub chiefs, especially those who were descended from their legendary ancestor, Thoho-ya-Ndou or Head of the Elephant.
 

Thoho-ya-Ndou’s kraal was called D’zata or home and it's remains are now a National Monument. D’zata had great significance for the Venda because they buried their chiefs facing it.

 

Succession to the throne is a complex matter. History has been characterised by many disputes over occupancy of the throne. When Thoho-ya-Ndou died, divisions arose between the different sub chiefs over disputes regarding the question of who was to succeed him. 

 

Today there are 26 sub chiefs that trace their origins to the great man while a few others trace their ancestry to tribes that were later incorporated with the Venda. However, the true Venda can be divided into 2 groups. The western group is primarily of Singo origin and descended from leaders such as Mphephu, Senthumule and Kutama. The eastern group regarded themselves as descendants of Lwamonde, Rambuda, Tshivashe and Mphapuli.

 

There was an important social division in Venda society between commoners called vhasiwana and the children of chiefs and their descendants known as vhakololo.

One of the most interesting and distinct groups of people who later joined the Venda are the African Semites known as Lemba. Lemba are believed to be the descendants of Semitic traders who entered Africa around 696 AD, or descendants of the lost tribe of Israel.  DNA tests confirm they are indeed descendants of an ancient Jewish people. They keep to themselves, only marry within their own group and sometimes refer to themselves as Vhalungu, which means non-Negroid or respected foreigner.
 

The beads the Lemba brought with them from far-off countries are treasured to this day and are used in divination and other magical ceremonies. The Lemba were very good traders and artisans. They were also famous, for their metalwork and pottery.

 

 

   Mapungubwe Hill  

 

1050-1270 AD

 

Mapungubwe was a city that flourished between 1050 and 1270 AD and may have had a population of 5000. It lies at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers and marks the centre of a pre-Shona kingdom which covered parts of modern-day Botswana and Zimbabwe.

 

Mapungubwe is thought by archaeologists to have been the first class based social system in South Africa. Its leaders were separated from and higher in rank than its inhabitants.

 

Life in Mapungubwe was centred around family and farming. Special sites were created for initiation ceremonies, household activities and other social functions. Cattle lived in kraals located close to the residents' houses, which signifies their value.

 

The city grew in part because of its access to the Limpopo River, which connected the region through trade to the ports of Kilwa and other sites along the Indian Ocean. Commerce grew with existing regional networks where salt, cattle, fish, metals, ostrich-eggshell beads and other items had been traded for centuries. New prestige items, including glass beads and cloth, were introduced through the Swahili trade and were likely exchanged for gold, ivory, and other locally produced goods.

 

The archaeological site of Mapungubwe is now as National Park. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003.

 

 

Mapungubwe Hill

 

The sandstone structure is 300 meters long with vertical cliffs rising 30 meters to a plateau. This hill was inhabited between AD 1220 and AD 1290.

 

 

Mapungubwe Replica Wall - Gold of Africa Museum


Most speculation about the society continues to be based upon the remains of buildings, since the Mapungubweans left no written or oral record. After Mapungubwe's fall, the city was forgotten until 1932. A local farmer by the name of E. S. J. van Graan and his son, a former student of the University of Pretoria, discovered a wealth of artefacts on top of the hill. They reported the find to Professor Leo Fouché of the University of Pretoria, paving the way for excavations that continue to this day.
 

Mapungubwe's location was initially kept secret for fear of looting, as many gold artifacts were found.

 

 

Golden Rhino - Mapungubwe

 

They were excavated in an elaborate burial site dated from approximately 1000 AD to 1300 AD, which include the famous golden rhino. The remains of people in three of the graves were buried in an upright seated position associated with royalty. With them were found a variety of gold and copper items, exotic glass beads, and other her prestigious objects as pottery, ceramic figurines, crafted ivory and bone.

 

 

Gold Fragments from Mapungubwe

 

Other portions of rhino figures were unearthed. Gold foil covered wooden carvings.

 

From 1240, the Mapungubwe Kingdom declined and the centre of power and trade moved north to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom.

 

     

 

Great Zimbabwe - Within the Enclosure

 

       

 

Great Zimbabwe postdates the Mapungubwe ruins.

 

     

 

                                         Nalatale Ruins - Zimbabwe                                      Khami Ruins - Zimbabwe

 

 The shifting of focus to Zimbabwe's Khami and Rozwi empires did not result with the Venda culture coming to a standstill. South of the Limpopo, Shona-Venda pottery styles developed in the 14th and 15th Centuries. There are no stonewalled ruins comparable in size to Great Zimbabwe in the north eastern part of the Northern Province, but those in the mountains show a link.

 

From 1400, waves of Shona speaking migrants from modern Zimbabwe settled across the Lowveld. These people were known by the Venda as Thavatsindi. The earlier traditional Venda authority system eroded, due to continuous contacts with other cultures.

 

From stone ruins, to waves of migration, history repeats itself. Waves of Shona speaking migrants in their millions continue southwards to this day. In the time of Rhodesia it was said that 10 years after Zimbabwe independence, the country would be referred to as Zimbabwe Ruins. Hello! 

 

 

 

 

Venda Culture

 

Venda culture is an interesting mix of other cultures. In many ways, Venda are culturally closer to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. At the same time, they have strong affinities to the nearby Lemba, Lobedu and North Sotho. Trade, warfare and intermarriage with Tsonga, Lobedu, Zulu, Swazi and other people, have left their imprints on Venda culture.

 

The Venda appear to have incorporated a variety of East African, Central African, Nguni and Sotho cultural characteristics. For example, they forbid the consumption of pork, a prohibition that is common along the East African coast. They practice male circumcision common among many Sotho, but not so among most Nguni peoples.

 

Venda culture is built on a vibrant mythical belief system, which is reflected in their artistic style. Water is an important theme to the Venda and there are many sacred sites within their region where the Venda conjure up their ancestral spirits.

They believe zwidutwane or water spirits, live at the bottom of waterfalls. These beings are only half visible; have only one eye, one leg and one arm. One half of man can be seen in this world and the other half in the spirit world. The Venda would take offerings of food to them because zwidutwane cannot grow things underwater.

 

           

 

                                                                     Lake Fundudzi                         The Art of Africa - Holy - Plate 131


One of the most sacred sites of the Venda is Lake Fundudzi, which was formed by a huge landslide in the Soutpansberg mountain range. Suspicion surrounds the lake, which is fed by the Mutale River, yet does not appear to have an outlet. It is said that you can sometimes hear the Tshikona sing, although no one appears to be present.

 

 

Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 48 - Barbara Tyrrell


The Venda people have a very special relationship with crocodiles. The area where they live has many of these dangerous reptiles. The Venda believe that the brain of the crocodile is poisonous, so they don't even hunt them for food.

 

   

Venda artist Noria Mabasa - Crocodile Sculpture - Collection Paul Mikula - Phansi Museum

 

The Venda were a protective people, many of whom still practice polygamy and worship their ancestors.
 

 

Venda Language

 

The Venda language, TshiVenda or LuVenda, is a Bantu language. It emerged as a distinct dialect in the 16th Century. In the 20th Century, the TshiVenda vocabulary was similar to SeSotho through association, but the grammar shares similarities with Shona dialects, which are spoken in Zimbabwe. Today about 875 000 people in South Africa speak Tshivenda. The Tshipani variety of Tshivenda is used as the standard.

 

The majority of Venda speakers live in South Africa, where "Venda" is an official government language, but there are also speakers in Zimbabwe. Before South Africa became a democratic country, the Bantustan of Venda was set up to cover the Venda speakers of South Africa. Throughout this area, variants of Tshivenda are spoken.

 

Tshivenda Variants

 

Tshiilafuri = Western Venda with traces of Sotho

Tshimanda = Central Venda, used by the Luonde and Lwamondo

Venda proper = found in Tshivhase and Mphaphuli's areas.

Tshimbedzi = Eastern Venda

Tshilembethu = North Eastern Venda

Extreme Eastern Venda = influenced by Karanga from Zimbabwe.

Tshironga = Southern Venda

South Eastern Venda = shows influence of Tonga and Sotho

 

 

Venda Homesteads

 

Venda villages, particularly those inhabited by chiefs or headmen, were built on hillsides or hilltops for defensive reasons.

 

 

Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 42 - Barbara Tyrrell

 

Below, a Venda homestead photographed at Mbilwe prior to 1928. Duggan-Cronin wrote: The work of cutting and erecting the poles of the hut is done by men, the plastering is done by women, as is the thatching. The little wall around the veranda is usually very skillfully ornamented, with various colours obtained from the different-coloured earths in the region. 

 

 

The Bantu Tribes of South Africa -  A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

An unusual Venda wall structure.

 

 

South African Tribal Life Today - Image 28

 

Renowned Venda artist Noria Mabasa was born in Xigalo village in 1938.

 

   

 

Click the thumbs to explore fascinating aspects of Mabasa's ever developing home.

 

 

 

Venda Musical Instruments

 

Phala-phala's were made from the horns of kudu or sable antelopes and used to call the people together for various gatherings. Each horn produced it's own "note" and according to Duggan-Cronin, weird tunes were the result.

 

 

The Bantu Tribes of South Africa -  A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

Venda drums are considered sacred and come in two forms. The smaller narrow example is held between the legs. A far larger round form usually has four elegantly carved handles where it is often attached to a pole or tree. Both types are called Ngoma, a generic name for drums over a large swath of Africa.

 

 

Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 52 - Barbara Tyrrell

 

 

A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

The photographs below were taken and filmed by Barbara Tyrrell and Peter Jurgens from 1949.

 

 

Circa 1949 Domba initiation school. - Barbara Tyrrell / Peter Jurgens

 

 

Circa 1949 Domba initiation school. - Barbara Tyrrell / Peter Jurgens

 

It was believed that the Singo king could protect his people from attack by their enemies by beating a special drum called the Lungundo, "drum of the dead". According to legend, the sound of the drum would strike terror in the hearts of the enemy and they would flee. We are not sure what it looked like.

 

 

 

Circa 1949 Domba initiation school. - Barbara Tyrrell / Peter Jurgens

 

Xylophones were called mbila and are claimed to be the finest musical instrument of the Venda. They were made from wood, calabashes and plant fibre. The "keys" were 3 to 4 inches wide, made of various thicknesses and beautifully decorated with incised designs. Calabashes served as sounding boards and were attached in graduated sizes with plant fibre. Small apertures were closed by thin membranes.

 

 

A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boys Initiation

 

Vhahwira - Muwhira

 

The Thondo - Morundu Initiation School

 

 

Two distinctly different initiation schools existed in Venda. The Thondo is the older of the two, which each Venda boy should pass through to attain manhood. Elaborate ritual governed the setting up, building and maintenance of the school, under the dictates of a traditional healer. It was a highly secret school where boys were trained in the self discipline, endurance, manners and tribal etiquette.

 

Venda boys were circumcised at the Murundu or Morundu initiation school. Circumcision and vhahwira costumes were introduced by the North Sotho, which include the Ba Roka and Lobedu.   

 

 

        

 

                   ex / Potcheftroom - J. Witt Collection                               A. M. Duggan-Cronin - Circa 1928
                                                                                                                            
 

 

The photograph to the above right was taken by Duggan-Cronin. He wrote: These Vhahwira are in the Thondo school, which is a continuation of the Morundu or circumcision school. Their very effective disguise is composed of a series of grass mats wrapped round them. One is carrying a typical old-fashioned Venda battle-axe.

 

The costume to the left represents the same supernatural Vhahwira, who is known as the recruiter. Deaf and dumb, he communicates by whistling and swishing a wand. The character is made up of reeds and body parts of hawks, owls and hammerhead birds. It was collected in the Sekororo Area by J. Witt during the early 1960's. Later it became the property of the Potchefstroom University Collection. Few examples are known, as these were often burned at the end of Thondo.

 

Annals of the South African Museum - Vol 94 - Part 3 - Page 097

 

This photograph was taken by Krige in 1938 amongst the Lobedu. At this initiation, the most spectacular costumes were worn by the mohwera from Rabothada, whose performance at the capital traditionally closed the initiation. Krige states the Rabothada dancers were called magôgôbya. They had magnificent costumes with headdresses surmounted by animal figures, with underskirts trailing the ground with dramatic effect.

 

 

This image the two which follow, were taken in 1949 by B. Tyrrell and P. Jurgens.

 

 

 

Filmmaker and photographer Peter Jurgens was artists Barbara Tyrell's husband. Many original photographs became part of the Ivy's Albums, where records show Muhwira is a recruiting officer for the Sangwe, which is the name for the girls initiation school. 

 

 

Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 52 - Barbara Tyrrell
 

This watercolor by Barbara Tyrrell includes the Vhahwira, or Muwhira figure. It is clear from the detail of her work, that the Vhahwira was the one she first viewed in 1949 with her husband Peter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Initiation

 

Vusha - Tshikanda - Domba

 

Master of the Domba with his authorative staff.

 

(Staff  stolen from the Master of the Domba in the 1950's)

 

 

Photograph by Peter Jurgens

 

Drawing - Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 45 - Barbara Tyrrell

 

There are three phases of initiation for Venda girls; Vhusha, Tshikanda and the Domba. Vhusha was attended as soon as possible after a girls first menstruation and then Tshikanda and Domba shortly before they were married. It could be held several times a year in the head-quarters of any district headman, but tshikanda and domba were held only at intervals of three to five years at the headquarters of chiefs and certain senior headman and for girls of several districts. At Vhusha, girls were introduced to the secret milayo laws, meant to prepare them for their future roles as wives and mothers.

 

Tshikanda was the second phase in Venda girls initiation and it took place just before before Domba. Considerable time was spent practicing ndayo exercises. Ndayo is a dance, but more of a  physical exercise, there to make the girls suffer and honour the old ones. The movements reinforce the pattern of seniority.

 

 

Ndayo Dance or Exercise

Venda Girls Initiation Schools by John Blacking

 

The Domba is the pre-marital initiation, the last one in the life of a Venda girl. The chief or sovereign will call for a Domba. Preparations are then made by the families for daughters to prepare what’s necessary to attend the ceremony. This includes entry fees for the ruler, clothes and bangles.
 

Historically, girls used to stay with the chief for the entire duration of the initiation school, which ranged between 3 months to 3 years. Nowadays girls only spend weekends at the ruler’s kraal, due to schooling.


The Domba has multiple functions. Girls are taught to how to become wives, plan birth, child birth, child care, how to treat a husband and nowadays the risks of AIDS. All this brings fertility to a new generation of the Venda.

 

 

Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 46 - Barbara Tyrrell

 

A number of special rites and mimes are associated with Domba. One which was well documented, photographed, filmed and painted by Barbara Tyrrell and Peter Jurgens, was of a dog and two chiefs. They argue over ownership of a buck killed by their dogs. While they quarrel, the dogs devour the buck. The lesson is obvious.

 

       

 

                                   The Dog                                                              Photographs by Peter Jurgens

 

Some experts state Southern Africains produced no traditional masks - hello!

 

Matano are secret objects which belong to the Master of Domba. They are cared for in a secret place by the chief's mother, as well as old women of the kraal.

 

   

 

Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Pages 47 and 49 - Barbara Tyrrell

 

Matano are used for teaching at Domba. Among these are wood figures of men and women, clay pythons, lizards, crocodiles, leopards and model huts. The upper left matano shows a man teaching about the man who killed his wife's lover.

 

 

Pair of figures at the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria collected prior to 1920.

 

Each matano has a symbolic name. The hut is used to teach respect due to the home. 

 

 

Photographed by Peter Jurgens

 

Nonyana is a cone shaped creature of blackened bark fiber with a head made of scarlet beans and small inserted ostrich feathers, about hip high. He or she appears at night and emits a peculiar birdlike call, swaying and rocking from side to side. No arms or legs are seen. (Personal communication with Barbara Tyrrell) The effigy joins the Domba dance and suddenly quenches the fire with it's water sodden skirt. This strikes terror among those present.

 

 

Photographed by Peter Jurgens

 

This photograph and the 35 mm footage maybe the only know Nonyana imagery known. This materialized when Tyrrell and Jurgens were beckoned into a secret enclosure.

 

Domba Dance

 

The great Domba dance is regularly held in the evenings, from dusk to dawn, around a ritual fire. Girls form a long chain and move in a clockwise direction.

 

 

Photographed by  Peter Jurgens

 

  

           

                   Barbara Tyrrell at Venda Domba Ceremony                   Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 46

 

The dance symbolized the mystical act of sexual communion, conception, the growth of the fetus and child birth. The successive performances of the dance during the months the school was in progress symbolized the building of the fetus.

 

 

Photographed by  Peter Jurgens

 

The girls began to dance with a monotonous response to the lead singer; then they brake into the ecstatic tivha khulo style of vocal hocketting.

 

 

Photographed by Peter Jurgens

 

At the end of the dance the girls stopped moving and would lean over in respect.

 

 

Photographed by  Peter Jurgens

 

They lay down in fetal positions as one.

 

 

Photographed by Peter Jurgens

 

Barbara Tyrrell wrote in Tribal Peoples: Traditionally they danced nude, but today their dress is the shedu cloth, passed between the legs forming an apron flap in front and a panel at the back. The girls assemble in the python line, close together, back into the next front and hands gripping the preceding elbows. The chief's daughter leads, her arms free and weaving against the night lie the heads of two serpents. Many metal bracelets and anklets glint as the domba line shuffles forward, in slow, rocking movement, to a drowsy tempo and the line of arms ripples up and down, like the python fertility god whom they revere and represent. All dancing is accompanied by chanting, some in the form of question and answer. High pitched voices reply to the booming voice of their teacher, a man who today is clad in European dress with perhaps a leopard skin cloak and feathers on his head. He capers on a wooden platform or runs along the line of dancer switching anyone who is out of time or, with another switch, driving away evil spirits.

 

 

Photographed by Peter Jurgens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Material Culture

 

Venda Woman's Dress

 

Woman photographed prior to 1928, after girls had passed through Domba.

 

 

 

The Bantu Tribes of South Africa -  A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

Images taken in 1949 by B. Tyrrell and P. Jurgens showing two stages of post Domba dress.

    

 

Photographed by Barbara Tyrrell and Peter Jurgens

 

Barbara Tyrrell wrote of the 3 women below left:

 

Left:  Mother of a young baby wears a thong around her waist to prevent the baby crying when she is away.

 

Centre: A post-initiate of Vhusha school wears thahu and stands in humble attitude.

 

Right: Post-initiate of Bomba wears "the feather" and her woman's backskirt. She stands respectfully, awaiting gifts.

 

  

 

                 Tribal Peoples of  Southern Africa - Page 51      The Bantu Tribes of South Africa -  A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

Doll type objects called thahu were worn under a beaded open worked belt on a girls rears pointing downwards. An example was recorded the Barbara Tyrrell watercolor above, as well as photographed by Duggan-Cronin, dolls worn on three others.

 

 

Open worked beaded belts collected in Venda by Paul Mikula of the Phansi Museum.

 

Mention is made of thahu in Evocations of the Child, page 172 in an article entitled Musidzana wa Tshirova - The girl who has a medicated rod.

 

 

 

Above - three examples of thahu in the Phanzi Museum Collection - Durban

 

         

 

Above, three examples of thahu, one wooden, another beaded and on of clay. Centre example collected by Paul Mikula from Lowani Ralimaoi at Makhubela in 1999 - circa 1976.

Thahu were worn as adornment. It is suggested they were specifically there to promote fertility. The article Musidzana wa Tshirova makes further suggestion that these phallic objects are the representation of a male genital organ and the tassels, semen, the latter most likely no more than the authors fantasy and/or false discovery. 

 

 

Venda women wore extraordinary beaded belts, snuff tins and blanket pins. Beaded tin panels were worn on the chest and called "Khambana Ya Fola".

 

Bead colours chosen and beading techniques used resembled those of the Venda's North Sotho and Shangaan neighbours. However, on closer inspection details are easily identifiable to be Venda.

 

Venda Wood Carving

 

We propose and suspect that the "Master of the Round Mouth" was of Venda origin. Read on to learn why...

 

 

Examples of  wooden chain links in a Private Collection

 

Woodwork in Venda has identifying fingerprints unique to the Venda people. During the 1920's, anthropologists from the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria, field collected eight very long wooden chain link sets, each carved from a single piece of wood. They collected the items in Venda.

 

Unlike Tsonga chain linked objects of far lesser proportions, each of these links had two flared  points, one on either side. Additionally, most chain examples terminated with phallic protrusions on either end. (above right)

 


 

Double Pointed Link

 

We know of three other examples. The centre chain (above) was part of the J. R. Ivy collection and measures 7.2 meters. The dark example (above) came from an East London estate and measures 6.45 meters. The third was sold at the S. Welz Sothebys ex Norman C. Bloom Estate sale in 2003 and measured 5.47 meters. (below)

 

 

Norman C. Bloom Estate

 

Wooden chain links of this magnitude were not necessarily curios made for trade to Europeans. Had they been, far more examples should have surfaced in antiquity markets. More likely, their use was as status objects by any culture, as they were admired by all those who came in contact with them.

 

A number of ladles of Tsonga design are known with typical Venda links. These may overlap from one tribe to another, but we feel the shape of the links are a give away.

 

 

Private Collection

 

Assuming the defining point of attribution to Venda is the link "form", then previously unidentified objects may be attributed to the Venda. A good example would be the smaller chain link with Janus faces carved on either end.

 

  

 

Private Collection

 

There are a number of known staffs, made by the carver of those which follow. (or carvers) In each case, Janus faces resembling the smaller chain linked face example, were included at each staffs mid section.

 

 

 

Private Collection

 

The staff above may be of earlier vintage than those below. If two separate carvers were responsible for these, they would have at the very least, been inspired by the other's carving tradition. Alternatively, the same person may well have carved both at different points of his career. Before  dismissing  this, consider that artists of European origin often changed style or techniques during their careers. Modern day academics tend to ignore the likelihood of African artists doing exactly the same. Had they not, their usual line of "from the same school as"  would in many cases fall away.

 

In our opinion, the carvers of all 3 staffs may be the same person. The clue is the naively carved Janus faces, in relation to the far more detailed head finials surmounting each staff. In all cases, the carver changed style between the two areas on a single staff. At the same time, the Janus sections of the staffs match the work of the smaller chain links, also Janus.

 

 

 

Private Collection

 

Another...

 

 

The Master of the Round Mouth - Collection Terence Pethica

 

Below (centre) is a plate from Snelleman and Mullers work Industrie des Cafres du Sud-Est de l'Afrique, published between 1891 and 1892. The figures on either side of the plate, as well as the neck rests further down, are in the collection of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden Germany.

 

 

The Master of the Round Mouth

 

 

   

 

                    Holy - Plate 135                                   Industrie Des Cafres - Plate 27                              Holy - Plate 137 

 

 

 Other figures by the Master

 

 

  

 

Private Collection

 

The figure above is undoubtedly by the "Master of the Round Mouth", visually confirmed by the Snelleman and Muller figures. The example represents a respected African sporting a head ring, dressed in European attire.

 

Wearing a foreign uniform does not mean the figure is a curiosity carved for a European clientele. The uniform's inclusion simply confirms the carver had been in contact with Europeans by the time the figure was made and that he felt such dress or fashion to be a worthy addition to his artwork.

 

The AKM figure may be a Matano used at the Domba initiation school. The figures attire strongly resembles that of the instructor which Barbara Tyrrell photographed at the domba, shown again hereunder. In this man's case, the uniform was most probably of personal choice.

 

 

Master of the Domba - Photograph by Barbara Tyrrell and Peter Jurgens

 

Master of the Domba - Circa 1949

 

Below are two other figures by the hand of  the "Master of the Round Mouth".

 

 

 

                                          The Campbell Collection - Durban                                            East London Museum Collection

 

Both figures depict Africans and thus are likely to be Matano figures as well. 

 

A underlying humour found in each of these works, as well as the variety of subjects he produced, reconfirms the artists status as that of a "master carver".

 

 

Mapungubwe Rhino - 1050/ 1270 AD

 

The headrests (below) are the property of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde and were also collected by Snelleman and Muller.

 

     

 

The Art of Africa - Masks and Figures from Eastern and Southern Africa - Holy - Plate 140

 

In all likelihood, the two collectors met the carver when passing through Pretoria in the late 19th century, as they attributed the objects to Maraba-stad in the former Transvaal. At the time, Marabastad was a culturally diverse community. The carver would have been attracted there by a growing European market, which explains why the four Rijksmuseum objects show a relative lack of patina, in comparison to the other known figures.

 

The master carver would have encountered Tsonga people in Marabastad, all of whom would have influenced the other. The interaction accounts for the Tsonga styled neck supports worked into each headrest. At the same time, it helps to explain the lack of patina on the earlier mentioned chain linked ladle.

 

 

Click the images to view a rare copy of Industrie des Cafres du Sud-Est de l'Afrique

 

Another aspect to consider is the origin of the carved round mouth itself, in context to early collected Southern African art . The open mouth design with exposed teeth is relatively rare. The numbers suggest this carving style is area specific

 

Below is a staff surmounted with a male head. It not only includes a round mouth, but displays a north Sotho styled coiffeur, placing this into an area specific location.

 

 

Private Collection

 

Another round mouth staff is shown, below right. Note the upraised or pronounced head-ring, a feature the Master of the Round Mouth included in his staffs. In our view this fashion was once also Venda specific.

 

    

 

Private Collection

 

Above left is a more recent contemporary carving by John Mudau. Mudau was an active carver in Venda from 1983, until his death in 1987.

 

    

 

 Nick Cumming Collection

 

This staff dates to the mid 20th century. If it were not for the Venda drum included in the composition, one might attribute the carving to East Africa. Venda styled drums were found well into Mozambique, so the the fez cap may indicate South East African attribution. At the same time, Masters of the Domba wore colonial attire and owned related staffs.

 

      

 

Venda wooden chain links link Venda art to the Master.

 

 

Domestic Artifacts

 

Another Venda fingerprint are carved raised ladle rims found on spoons, as seen in the centre image below.

 

   

 

Private Collection - ex/ Natal Museum  - ex Kinkaid Smith Collection

 

     

 

Private Collection

 

This Venda trademark is not new, which the early collected example to the right confirms.

 

The photograph (below right) shows a Venda girl with utensils of daily use, including baskets, pots, calabashes, a mortar and stomper. On her head is a typical Venda basket used to carry prepared meals.

 

  

 

Rain-Queens and Python Dance – Plate 71 - Katesa Schlosser

 

Typical Venda pots can be seen above. Noteworthy exceptions follow.

 

 

 

The two figured pots on the left are the works of Noria Mabasa and found within the confines of her home. The pot on the right was field collected amongst the Venda.

 

      

 

 Venda Pot - Sorghum Stomping

 

Neck rests were used to support the head in an effort to protect a persons coiffeur. The incised pattern below is similar to that found on the keys of Venda xylophones. At the same time the relationship to Zimbabwe's Shona peoples is reconfirmed.

 

 

National Cultural History Museum - Pretoria

 

 

Venda Battle Axes

 

Early collected Venda battle axes were styled much like others in Southern Africa. Their function was to display rank or authority, much like a staff or sceptre. Below, a Venda Vhahwira of an initiation school holds a typical example firmly to his side. 

 

 

A. M. Duggan-Cronin

 

The drawings and images of Southern African battle axes below, were published in The Zulu Battle Axe by Tim Maggs of the Natal Museum.

 

Below - battle Axes depicted in Southern African Rock Paintings
 

 

Southern African Battle Axes in Museum Collections

 

Battle axes were held in high esteem by the Venda community. The influx of Europeans from the early 19th century had a dramatic effect on their appearance. The bayonet form evolved, which had a facsimile of European bayonets used for stabbing.

 

 

Attribution Tsonga Related - Private Collection

 

Initial contact with whites occurred when Voortrekker leader Louis Trichardt came to the area in 1836. In 1848, the trekkers established a settlement named Schoemansdal. The Venda chief Makhado harassed them to such an extent, that the town was abandoned in 1867. This harassment was continued by Makhado’s son Mphephu, and eventually led to the Mphephu War. As a result, Mphephu was defeated and fled to Zimbabwe.

 

The battle axe below, was owned by a Dutch immigrant from Petersburg. The hilt is surmounted with a double steeple church and decorated with brass nails.

 

     

 

Private Collection

 

The Berlin Mission Society had a presence in Venda from 1850. Mission stations were to be found on both sides of the Soutpansberg mountains. Not surprisingly, both of the following axes were re-discovered in a German context.

 

 

                                          Private Collection                                                        Wolf-Dieter Miersch Collection 

 

The addition of churches onto Venda battle axe finials underlines fascination craftsmen had with items of European design. In earlier times, the brass and copper decorations, as well and the sheet iron type steel used on the circle blade, were foreign.

 

     

 

Of late, many incorrectly attribute battle axes of bayonet form to the Venda.

 

 Axes surmounted with Tsonga neck rests confirm that bayonet battle axes were more widely used. Without a church or headrest depicted, attribution should be determined through provenance alone.

 

 

 

Wolf-Dieter Miersch Collection 

 

           

 

Arne Grosskopf Collection

 

Attribution may be secured through contextual information. The coiffure found on this Southern African staff final confines it's origin to the North Sotho. The "round mouth" narrows this further to Venda. Affirming this, it was rediscovered in a German context, in the heart of the city of Berlin!

 

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