Tread the ancient trade routes

With every swing of the axe, as the sharp edge of metal cuts through the grain, he can hear the pulsing beat of the Swigubu, the gentle breeze turning every bead of sweat on his forehead into ice. He can hear her voice, the story-teller weaving tales of old, the distant call of the father drum, a gathering, a joyous celebration unfolding in the heart of the village. He lays down his tools, wipes down his face and follows the rhythm.

Clouds of dust glow gold in the late afternoon sun as the beat intensifies, a cacophony of sound fills the air underneath the old Marula tree. Stepping closer he can see the crowd streaming in from every corner of the village, just like him heeding the call of the ancestors to come closer. The vibrating sound of the Mhalamhala echoes through the dusty streets, and as he peers through the crowd into the inner circle he can see the pride of his people in every powerful kick, shake or jump.

The swaying rainbow colours of women in Xibelanis, young men defying gravity as they leap high into the air, animal skins around their bodies pronking with joy, a whirlwind of movement that sweeps you along until their feet hit the ground and their ankle shakers rattle to a standstill. There is a brief moment of silence before they explode into action again, feet stomping down onto the red soil as the crowd erupts with joy, ululating as one.

This ancient tradition is still very much alive in Limpopo and visitors to the Rixile Culture to Kruger Route can be swept along on this modern-day celebration of culture. A coming together of storytellers, traders and travellers, re-writing the pages of history through song and dance.

In the 1400’s the VaTsonga, who make up a large part of Limpopo today, migrated from central Africa all the way down to the South. They had been traders on the old trade routes from East Africa to central and South Africa, bartering with beads, cloth, salt and other goods for ivory and gold. These ancient routes followed the snake-like Limpopo, Komati and Zambezi rivers South to the communities who lived along these fertile banks. Finally settling there in the 1800’s.

Today the Giyani Rixile Culture to Kruger Route sits on the intersection of the ancient trade routes and is the heartbeat of Tsonga culture and heritage. From Thomo Heritage Park, an ancient iron age smelting site, you can see right across to the trading hills that lead to Mapungubwe hundreds of miles north.  Find yourself transported back in time connecting with these modern-day traders and immerse yourself in the ancient rhythms of Limpopo.

Visit the route and learn how to make a traditional clay pot and even grind the peanuts that would be stored inside… trade this for smoky salt harvested on the Klein Lethaba River at Baleni or handcrafted beads from Hi Hlurile Pot of Beads. You can re-live these experiences with the help of knowledgeable historian and storyteller, Richard Mabunda. Find yourself transported back in time connecting with these modern-day traders and immerse yourself in the ancient rhythms of Limpopo, beginning at the Thomo Heritage Park where the interpretation centre, iron-smelting site and traditional village will set the scene of the Tsonga traders. This contrasts with the modern-day traders in the vibrant CBD, stopping at a ‘chisa-nyama’ roadside restaurant to enjoy Tsonga flame-grilled chicken, pap and gravy. Travelling to Mapuve Pottery you can learn the art of traditional pot-making before making your way to Nkuri Pottery Village to experience traditional bartering practices in a modern context.

The Vatsonga people are traders at heart so their art and crafts are beautiful but also practical. The rich symbolism and designs of the Shangaan tribe is felt on every level when you travel off-the-beaten-track to Siyandani Village for a traditional musical performance where the energy, colour and vibrancy will get everyone dancing to the rhythms of the Shangaan people.   Go back in time and experience the ancient trade routes for yourself.

Choose from a half-day tour to a 4-day tour – create your own trade route journey.  Let LOVE LIMPOPO put together your itinerary now.

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