Sacred sites from perspective of our indigenous or original home language meaning of Vhavenḓa.
- The Sacred sites are now in the attention?
The world conservation views by many environmentalists, ecological, heritage gatherings, they are talking about sacred sites. It has become more in the attention to gatherings of IUCN, indigenous people, and conservation gatherings and this has established interests of the academic researchers.
- SACRED SITES.
What is sacred site.
Sacred means a blessed, holy, divine place and in the bible example of sacred forest, this is the forest in Sinai mountain, which Moses was told to remove the shoes before entering there as it is a holy place, the forest get flames of fire but did not burn.
These places are respected place by everyone as it is a placed which is believed to be Godly place. Places like that here in Venda we call them Zwifho.
Other people referred old buildings, churches, places of historical events as sacred sites. The South African government have facilities called heritage sites, like place of ruins, places where from wars or political conflicts, people died there, they are also sacred places.
All these are not zwifho in Venda language they are called mashubini.These are places like Maphungubwe, Thulamela, Dzata ,etc like those places, it is places called mashubini, ruins places, these places in Luvenda language they cannot be Zwifho , they are called mashubini and zwidza if people were buried there.
Here in Venda we begin to hear about the word sacred site and holy forest by tourism description of identifying Thathe and Phiphidi waterfall, and other unique ecological sites which were not zwifho, but they called those places sacred sites because of their ecological intense and their attraction in the view tourism.e.g they said Phiphidi waterfall is a sacred place and Thathe is a holy forest and other brochures said Thathe is sacred forest.
- Protected areas.
Some called these places protected areas and this is in the same category with protected areas such as nature reserves places. This relates to Zwifho here in Venda as in tradition and culture Zwifho are the indigenous forest which are protected by the customary laws of Vhavenda spiritual beliefs, as no one is allowed to harvest anything or to fetch wood, even wild fruits are ripe there , no one goes there to pick anything. That has been a traditional protocol which pass down from generations and generations as children when growing they also know that the place is a Zwifho. Those places remain protected areas. Children and youths when they grow, they are not taught in the meeting, but learn from intergenerational transfer of knowledge from the siblings acts. The whole community has been respecting these places as traditional protected areas and those areas always remaining dense forest with lots of dry wood. The community knew that that places belong to a certain clan who do their sacraments or rituals in there and the community know the clan name and name of those Zwifho names. The amazing actions is that even domestic animals do not graze there. There were many stories of supernatural powers which people believes on that , such as if you enter there you will not come back, if you fetch wood there , the wood will become snakes, if you go there you will meet some figures which are half human beings. Those indigenous forests remain as protected areas for many many decates and their trees are very oldest trees.
- Currently the Environment department is mentioning the no go area places.
Being mentioned no go areas, it relates to Vhavenda people ‘s actions on their customs of Zwifho respect. Zwifho is a no go area through Vhavenda customary law. Only custodian clan go there during their sacraments/rituals times and one cannot see even custodian clan members lingering anytime they wish in the zwifho or harvesting or fetching wood there.
- The IUCN attention on (Zwifho)Sacred Natural Sites.
The IUCN in their guideline for Protected Areas managers: Sacred Natural Sites, has defined sacred sites as follows: I quote from IUCN Guideline for Protected Area Managers”a place of land and water having special spiritual significance to people and communities”. The IUCN identity categories of sacred sites, and they also mentioned that there are subset of sacred sites which is called sacred natural sites, and this perspective complement the Vhavenda views on how we should call zwifho in English.In the IUCN , they mention that there are sacred sites which are natural formed and sacred sites which are human built or momnuments. Ref: Background to Sacred Natural Sites. IUCN Guideline for Protected areas Mangers, By Robert Wild and Christopher McLeod, Editors. Peter Valentine, Series Editors.
- Dzomo la Mupo.
Vision of Dzomo la Mupo: To protect nature in all its forms especially indigenous forests,rivers,wetlands,sacred natural sites and enhancing indigenous skills of traditional agriculture which supports agro –ecological farming and preserve healthy nutritional food security.
In Dzomo la Mupo we have done many dialogues identifying what are sacred sites and their roles. With elders and youths we have drawn the ecological mapping to show the network of sacred sites in the territory, the dialogues clarify the role carried by Zwifho which are as follows: the spiritual, ecological and social cultural role.
We also hold experiential learning platforms with Amazon –Columbia indigenous people.film by African Biodiversity Network and Gaia Fndation. STORY OF CHANGE.
In 2012 African Biodiversity Network hold an intense dialogues with the African partners including Dzomo la Mupo members from Venda to dialogue around sacred sites and the dialogue produces a sacred sites document (April 2012 STATEMENT OF COMMON AFRICAN CUSTOMARY LAWS FOR THE PROTECTION OF SACRED SITES and publication on film sacred voices, www.africanbiodiversitynetwork.org
- Yes, I am a defender of Sacred sites and the indigenous spirituality.
- My philosophy: We cannot get health if Mupo is not healthy. Mupo is life and without Mupo there is no life.Indigenous knowledge teaches us Mupo Law,Nature law and that is Earth law. My strands to Dzomo la Mupo: Spirituality and ecology/Nature: Restoring the role of women in Ecology: Sacredness of seed and indigenous food sovereignty: Youths empowerment to stimulate eco-minds.
Me Mphathe,I have spent many hours, days with different elders, knowledgeable elders and Venda academics from University of Venda learning from them.I have attended different regional and international meetings and learn a lot too from the Kenya, Ethipia, ABN partners and the different international indigenous people including the shamas, elders,women from Maloca in Amazon-Columbia. I have organized workshops, I have facilitated many meetings sothat we deeply understand the Zwifho because I believed so much that Zwifho is very sacred place of Nature, in my Venda culture and the home of our ancestors spirits. I remember in 2007when we started to gather Vhomakhadzi and men elders to dialogues around Zwifho, they started by whispering, not wanting to talk about zwifho aloud, and they kept on telling me not to write what they are saying. They also told me that some modern religions do not want people to talk about Zwifho,makhadzi who still do the ancestors rites(vhadzimu), finger millet-mpambo, fola (tobacco/snuff )rituals of Thevhula and u phasa. I have spent lots of time visiting Vhomakhadzi, individually, in clan groups and sometimes do gatherings of combined different clans elders and different clans’ vhomakhadzi. The IUCN guideline book has helped me a lot for building confidents of elders and the custodians of Zwifho.
As I was many times exposed by ABN, to many learning process such as Botswana customary law dialogues and solitary wilderness night experiences I gained so much energy. My experiential visits in ABN meetings , my Amazon visits gave me a lot of strength.
I stood tall to defend African indigenous spirituality, traditional healing and our ancestor’s roles.
I kept on pushed and equipped by my childhood memories experiences such as, at Vuvha where I was born there were zwifho, at Vhulaudzi behind the Mudzinga school my lower primary school,from 8 years ,there was a place which was said to Zwifho.All those places where the indigenous forests and were the no go areas.When I was in standard 8, I was 14 years old, there was a school trip to Lake Fundudzi, my father deny me to go to that trip and said that,that place is a Zwifho place, in Luvenda language ndi Zwifhoni.
In 1998 I was touched when I first hear from Dr Dima Mashudu that Phiphidi is the Zwifho of Ramunangi. From there I had a concern and keep on asking people, why this zwifho is experiencing destructions and the Ramunangi are nowhere to be found. After my Amazon trip in 2006, when I came back Dr Dima arranged for me to talk on the Phalaphala fm, Venda national radio about Zwifho as a topic. During the presentation listeners came with questions and Phiphidi destruction and plans to develop it were questions which listener showed a concern asking where are the custodians of Phiphidi Waterfall.
I remember I went to another tourism meeting in Tzaneen, near Vhatsonga cultural village and I presented to the government the destruction of Phiphidi , my first day to do presentation of power point, I showed the pictures of littering which were garbage of beer cans and condoms and big trees cut down for picnic spot.ref; Mphathe recording video for Ramunangi ,2006 available at, Ramunangi and Dzomo la Mupo archives.
In 2008 I went again to Amazon and end of that year I attended the IUCN congress in Spain where I was given topic , “Can we commercialize sacred sites’’ ref Fiona of Gaia Foundation. That was the day I felt so much strength that I should defend sacred sites in Venda my home, and from there I stood tall to tell Venda elders, vhomakhadzi, custodians of Zwifho that Zwifho are there everywhere in the world and this where I took IUCN Guideline book and use it as a spear to defend sacred sites. I always told elders and Dzomo la Mupo that we are not an island in the world there are many indigenous people who are talking about sacred sites in the world big meetings, and in the world’s government , academics , many many people are talking about the importance of sacred sites.
I am a proud daughter of a well-known, famous vhavenḓa traditional healer and my clan originated at Luonde sacred mountain which today Vhakwevho have been displaced from Luonde since the other tragedies of previous colonial government of apartheid. Today Luonde is covered by plantations of blue gums trees like other places in Venda and Luonde sacred mountain is surrounded my farms. But ,I trust that Vhakwevho will claim back the sacred of Luonde and get it back, as future generations will want their spiritual home back , some years to come. I have learn,liked it and fully support the following mission: We the Vhongwaniwapo(indigenous) in Dzomo la Mupo we are not claiming ownership of the land, we only want recognition of our Zwifho and be given the rights to carry on responsibilities of our spiritual tasks of our ancestors. S.A constitution support the freedom of religion and recognize culture since the first democratic the late .S.A President Nelson Mandela said “We are one nation with different cultures. Never and never again shall we experience domination by one another?”
All my learning’s and to Keep Dzomo la Mupo alive , to be real living is my task and I have all strength to keep that task to be fulfilled. When I did dialogues to write profiles and constitution of Thathe, Ramunangi,Vhuṱanḓa, I realize and shared with elders that we should use our sacred language. That came in when I feel that sacred sites word does not deeply mean Zwifho.
- My story of defending zwifho zwa Venda with Dzomo la Mupo.
The word Zwifho carries a deep meaning about our spirituality, our ancestors,the ecological connection we have with Mupo and the social cultural heritage. In zwifho we do rituals/ sacraments called thevhula and u phasa. Zwifho connects spiritualy with cultural rites of sacred burials, Zwifho connects us with ecological calendar on seed and food systems. Zwifho is our home where we connect with ancestors spirits, our totems and clan paraises called mutupo. We cannot have the zwifho if the indigenous forests, trees, water sources like wetlands,springs/fountains,lakes, waterfalls, in these places are disturbed, if animals,insects, reptiles,etc and soil is disturbed, this means if the ecosystems of those places is interfered. The ancestors spirits resides in the ecosystems of those areas as our spirituality is in Nature.Zwifho is like a church yard to us, Zwifho is our temple.
I have learnt deep in 2006 from the late Chief Vho-Netshidzivhe , father of the current khosi(chief) of Tshidzivhe , he said to me that if one want to learn about ecosystem , he should go to the sacred forest and that the sacred forest stays green all year round. The current chief said I cannot take the mpambo to the church, so the church people should also not take bible and songs to to the Zwifho.
The Luvenda language carries a deep meaning of Zwifho..
Zwifho in English falls under sacred natural site category, and Zwifho here in Venda is a sacred natural ecological sites that are not demarcated by human beings. These are natural sensitive ecological sacred site which its ecosystem should not be disturbed by any human interference. These sites are not only found in Venda land only, they are found in the world at large. Here in Venda Zwifho are found in the indigenous forests, on the mountains, the lakes ,springs/fountains ,natural ponds, lakes, the caves, natural waterfalls, indigenous trees and all those areas are not demarcated by human beings.
These sites have the custodian clans which has been bestowed the responsibilities to maintain the ecology of these places since creations. The custodian clans of those places are not chosen by human being or government but only chosen by the Ri sa mu di,Ṅwali(Creator or God) since creation and the responsibilities is pass down to generations of the custodians in the clan. There is no person or government law including the chiefs or the clan itself, that has rights to change the laws that govern those sites or change custodianship clan of those areas, e.g The Netshidzivhe clan cannot be changed to be custodians of Luonde, meaning That Makwinda a Thathe cannot be changed to be warthogs Nguluvhe of Vhakwevho vha Luonde. So one can change the(mutupo) totem and praise of another custodian clan.
While I was listening to different knowledgeable elders about Zwifho, I realize the following,
”Writing and explaining about Zwifho,there no way we can cover or detailed all the systems of Zwifho roles, we cannot cover or detail the whole order in the zwifho, order in the custodianship clan. I learned that from my deep feelings as I also believe so much on that. I realized and felt it in my feelings that the whole order is with the ancestors spirits and supernatural powers with Ri sa mu di/ Ṅwali(Creator or God). We human beings we cannot see or hear it all and we cannot explain the whole order or the systems. This is a spiritual places which cannot be understood by our own interpretation, it is so deep knowledge which comes to us by visions, dreams, reading the bones and natural spiritual knowledge which natural comes to the makhadzi. The deeper knowledge and natural knowledge is bestowed in the minds of Makhadzi as makhadzi who do thevhula , u phasa for the clan is also not chosen by people but my ancestors spirit.
For us human beings living on Earth, our responsibilities is to follow the paths which our ancestors guide us to. That is to continue to do thevhula, u phasa(sacrements or rituals) and respect the ecosystems in these places as a way which our ancestors has been doing when they were on Earth or before they die, they were respecting these places like that and for many many generations of their decendants till to us the present generation. And it is our responsibility too, bounded to continue and live this legacy so that generations coming after us continue like that. I do not believe that spirituality systems can be change even if culture change.”
I have spent many hours, during the days and in the evenings listening to elders when their memories are stimulated, I have written a lot, I have overnight in homes of very knowledgeable elders and they have also come to my home and overnight there, we have talked, I asked them many questions to stimulate their memories. I have walked in their territories when they show the old paths, important trees, wetlands, fountains. I followed them in their fields when they were they plough ,plant their seeds for food. I have enjoyed to learn from my living libraries. I was invited when they do the thevhula and witness the unity the clan have when there is rituals/sacrements.I learn a lot from the youths in these clans.
On these experiences this is how I managed to write the Vhutanda, Thathe, and Ramunamgi profiles and constitutions which are with Sahra now. With Carine Nadal, Liz Hosken, Roger Chennels, Fiona, it has been three two years, 2011 and 2012 I was their student, complling all knowledge together, documenting all stories, whom they gave assignment,many questions , arranging meetings where I should arrange with clans to have knowledgeable elders to confirm that knowledge in the preparations of those documents. It became like doing a degree, as I should write the whole compiled knowledge in a required format and translate it to English so that Carine Nadal will interpret and translate to a required English as it was also a legal document which should be supported by the constitutions. I have been doing lots of conference call , where one call will took more than hour at one time,many questions would come so that I should confirm and before confirming I have to go back to the clan representatives elders. Some days when I read to them what is written, they will cancel and come with new story, the other day they will say re-write what we have cancelled.
I remember when they were conflict with me and custodians clan representatives, vhomakhadzi asked me that, why am I writing their documents in English not in Luvenda language. It took an effort to convince them and built the trust.
In 2013 they completely change and said I have to read to them sentence by sentence and translate every word to Luvenda language. The custodians have the document since 2012. That was fueled when documents were to be published by Mupo Foundation, the custodians of the Zwifho and Dzomo la Mupo were not happy were not happy with the publication by Mupo Foundation. I did meetings for translations but we did not finish as Mupo Foundation and Dzomo la Mupo got into conflict which ends the collaborations.
I am writing these because the work I have been doing was a task that there was no, that you have knock off, no time to rest after hours and weekend, conference calls, longest calls with Liz Hosken, I have to get calls from communities, Dzomo la Mupo, custodians wanting me to come to their meetings when other clan members who were not but of the process were asking many questions about these document and many who were not involved in Dzomo la Mupo , questions were arising, about why am I writing the zwifho issues. It took me an effort to explain until some agrees.
Zwifho meaning in Luvenda language.
The word zwifho means to give and to be given. According to elders when they explain deeper about the word zwifho, they say, in Zwifho we give our ancestors and the ancestors will give us back want we need. When we go to do thevhula or u phasa we are giving our ancestors the millet drink called mpambo, the water, the tobacco and we shall say our prayers of asking mainly shothodzo,( harmony and well-being), and to request the rain to fall for the whole community. This is to request harmony of healing, the health in the whole territory, for all good things to happen not only for the custodian clan members but for everyone everything else in Mupo in the whole area, for Earth and for all life and for everyone in the whole community not only for custodians alone as rain will fall for all.This is one law, one understanding and common process for all good things to happen which we call it shothodzo. We would ask rain, health and in return we shall see many blessings and order in our communities after doing the thevhula.
One could witness this, Venda has a legend rain, and in Zwifho the mist starts there, zwifho is in the catchment areas where the trees which attract rain.The zwifho of Venda are rain forest areas.
We give to zwifho sothat zwifho give us too.As we say in our prayers we shall say you ancestors please send all these prayers to Ri sa mudi meaning send our prayers to the God. In our spirituality we believe our ancestors spirits are close to Ri sa mu di( God) as we originated from Ri sa mu di (God) by our ancestors till us who are living now.That is why we relates from the ones who pass on recently, up to succession of our our foreparents generations till those whom we do not know and we shall mention that even those whom we do not may you pass all these to Ri sa mudi(God).
Again when we eat,we have a say that tshi fha vhadzimu a tshi lali na ndala.That is also our prayer before we eat, we put small portion of little food on the ground, and mention that expression that , then we continue to eat. This is to give ancestors before we eat.This is the same practice we do in Zwifho before going to plough and plant , we first go there to request rain by giving our ancestors finger millet drink.And when our crops are ripe before we reap to eat we also do rituals at home in a shrine to give thanks giving.
Our Luvenda language carries deep meaning of our ancestors and Mupo.
We the Vhavenda people we originated from the indigenous, that is the origin, we originated since Tsiko (Creation of the Universe) with Luvenda (Venda language) which was given to us by Ri sa mu di or Nwali (Creator or God). Our ancestors originated here so long ago before the ‘‘vho tshila ha vhutshilo vhunzhi’’(Common era) or Before Christ (BC). Our language and governance systems existed before pen, paper and writing were discovered. We have been speaking Luvenda (Venda language) for over 3,000 years before it was written down between 1600 and 1800. When the Masingo, Vhalemba Clans and other non-Vhongwaniwapo or non-Vhangona (non-indigenous) Clans arrived here they found the Luvenda (Venda language) here as well as the homesteads and mashubi (ruins) of the Venda people. The historical archives recognise that our oral tradition is older than the written tradition and must be respected as such.
Our language carries a deep meaning of the knowledge of our ancestors and healing. Our indigenous knowledge systems are in Luvenda (Venda language) and are about our way of life, our customs, our culture,our spirituality, our language, our shango (territory), which are all rooted and born within Mupo (all of Creation which is not human made). The names of all life from the soil, insects, animals, rivers, mountains, plants and trees, to the moon and stars, and all in the Universe including spirituality and the name of the Creator or God were given by Ri sa mu di or Nwali (Creator or God) since Tsiko (Creation of the Universe). We were given our language which carries deep meaning. The language of spiritual connection with our Vhadzimu (ancestors’ spirits) cannot be spoken in any other language. Language is not learnt from a book but born with Mupo (all of Creation which is not human made). There cannot be indigenous knowledge if there is no language, customs, culture of the Vhongwaniwapo or Vhangona (indigenous).
There is a big difference between the Vhufa (heritage) and Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites) and they are not the same. Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites) are not property to be owned, divided and managed or for an individual to benefit from. Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites) are not for economic benefit – just as a church, altar and prayer, songs and dances cannot be for economic activity. Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites) concern Vhadzimu (ancestors’ spirits) which cannot be owned or inherited but are the responsibility of the whole community. Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites) are not about history but are about the story of Origin of Creation. Zwifho are not human made but created by Ri sa mu di or Nwali (Creator or God) during Tsiko (Creation of the Universe). Zwifho (Sacred Natural Sites) were formed before people and will continue always. Here in all Zwifho are found in the natural indigenous forests, Zwifho cannot relocate,even if someone plant indigenous trees , that place cannot be Zwifho.
Another catergory of sacred sites.
Here in Venda there are some sites which are also sacred but those sites are not Zwifho they are the Tshiendeulu or zwiendeulu(plural).Zwiendeulu are the demarcated sacred burial forests of the (vhakololo) royalties. Zwiendeulu are not naturally established or formed. Zwiendeulu is derived from Netshiendeulu clan,when the first leader of vhasenzi Dimbanyika who died in the Zwifho(sacred) cave in Lwandali and from that incident , the Vhasenzi of Masingo begin to name the burial sites of chiefs and vhakololo Zwiendeulu.
Like Zwifho, Zwiendeulu is also a no go area as it is a sacred burial sites even though it is not naturally formed.The difference is that Zwiendeulu can relocate and Zwiendeulu is not for a clan but for a family.Zwiendeulu are dermacated by human beings and any royality family
Zwifho is given the clan by the original creation and Nwali(meaning God), not by human laws or governance like the zwiendeululu.
Zwiendeulu is places of burials that are sacred to the royalities.Zwifho belongs to the aboriginals/indigenous Venda clans only and Zwiendeulu belongs to all the aboriginals and the non- aboriginals. Zwiendeulu is not a place of thevhula or u phasa, the non aboriginals they have only shrines which they make at their homes and the Zwiendeulu that they dermacate forests near homes, and that places is not zwifho.The Zwifho of Venda are bestowed to the aboriginals Vhongwaniwapo clans and the non-aboriginals only have Zwiendeulu not zwifho.
Quote Makhulukuku by Vho-Phophi “ Mushumo muhulu we Vhangona vha fhulufhela wone ndi wa u tungulula,na u phasela ….zwifho….zwiṱaka zwi sa remiwiho…Zwifho zwothe zwi re shangoni la Venda ndi zwa Vhangona…vha ha Velelambeu a vha na Zwifho.(Huge task which Vhangona(The indigenous) is to trust processes of rituals/sacrements in their Zwifho of forests which should never be debushed. All Zwifho in Venda territories belongs to Vhangona, The Veleḽambeu people do not have Zwifho.)
THE SPIRITUAL NETWORK.
Zwifho is the heart of spiritual ,ecological and social systems of all The Vhavenda people.The Vhasenzi especially Masingo are breastfeeded by the Vhangona breast.Many Vhomakhadzi from the Vhangona clans they are the ones who gave birth to the chiefs of Masingo.The Masingo and the Vhangona were relatives by blood sinc the origin or creations , as when we trace back Dimbanyika when he arrives at Lwanḓali he arrived at his uncles home.The Zwifho people are strongholds of the ecological calendar as their rituals were performed to bring shothodzo in the territories. That is the reason why Zwifho of Venda still exist and they where respected.
More knowledge can be found in dialogues with the remaining knowledgeable Vhavenḓa elders.
©Mphatheleni Makaulule firstname.lastname@example.org