By Dawn Denton
According to Venda legend, the ‘People of the Pool’ are the custodians of Lake Fundudzi. In the past, a person had to ask this local family for permission to visit the lake. They would then pay homage by turning their back on the water, bending forward and then looking at the lake through their legs. This is still a way to show respect for the ancestors who live in the waters. Times change, and today there is unrestricted public access. But the ‘People of the Pool’ still use traditional law to guard and conserve the history and culture of the area.
The Python God
The inland lake system of Lake Fundudzi has three tributaries. One of the rivers, the Mutale River, is home to the giant python god of fertility. A legend tells of a local Venda man who walked into the lake with a heart filled with sorrow after the loss of his true love. He turned into a python, and for centuries a young maiden was regulary sacrificed to appease him. Today, the young virgins in the community perform the ritual Domba Python dance. This is to honour the python god as part of their initiation into womanhood. Sacrificial beer is poured into the lake to thank the python god for caring for their crops in the surrounding hills.
The White Crocodile
The local people know their lake well and can ‘read’ the mood of their ancestors. They also predict the weather by the colour and ‘behaviour’ of the water. The ancestors believe the lake is guarded by a white crocodile, which has not been seen in living memory. As there are still many other crocodiles in the lake, and so people do not wash in its waters.
Locals say that if you throw something into the lake, the ancestors will throw it back. Every morning the banks are filled with objects people have thrown in. But today, most of these items have washed in from the local villages that are situated on the banks of the tributaries that lead to Lake Fundudzi.
People Under the Water
Another local legend says that if you look into the lake, you will see people living under the water. Centuries ago a leper was begging in one of the villages and was refused food. He put a curse on the village. And so the waters rose and the village was submerged. Today you can still see these villagers under the water. There are often reports of singing heard on the banks of the lake, believed to be the sound of the buried ancestors who sing and play their drums under the water.
Today it is a real challenge to uphold traditions that are so much a part of the Venda culture. The surrounding area often has very low rainfall and many of the locals have turned to farming to survive. The soil is moist and fertile. But the low rainfall and deforestation, has led to problems of runoff, erosion and silt build up in the tributaries and the lake itself. Local village women do their laundry in the water. The water runs into the lake which has polluted the water and is a risk to life in the whole area. Waterborne diseases such as cholera are also sadly on the increase.
Modern life has threatened the very existence of the lake. To save this spiritually rich area, rehabilitation programs and education to raise awareness of the ecosystem have become a priority. The conservation project has created jobs for the locals in areas of building and education.
But still the gods continue to provide assurance of a positive future for the Venda people and Lake Fundudzi. Locals and visitors are encouraged to walk to the edge of Lake Fundudzi and throw a few strands of their hair into the water. This will please the gods and will ensure protection and comfort for centuries to come.
The Venda People
The Venda people are a minority group in Southern Africa. There are only about 700 000 speakers who live mostly in the Limpopo Province and close to the Zimbabwe border.
***Cyril Ramaphosa, the current President of South Africa, born in Soweto, matriculated from Mphaphuli High School in Sibasa, Venda in 1971***
**Do you know how Table Mountain got its ‘table cloth’?**