Gaia partner The Mupo Foundation and community based organisation Dzomo la Mupo (Voices of the Earth) held a unique event in October in celebration of Venda heritage and cultural traditions. The event, held in Limpopo Province, South Africa, also marked a celebration of the culmination of a process to have their network of Sacred Natural Sites recognised by South African Heritage organisation SAHRA. The applications are currently in review. View a photo gallery of the days events here and find out more below…

On Saturday 20th October traditional communities in Venda, Limpopo Province came together for a cultural celebration day held in the small town of Thohoyandou. The special event – called “Mupo Day” – was organised to raise awareness of the protection of MupoMupo in vhaVenda language means all of Nature – from the animals to the plants to the entire cosmos. Mupo Day also marked the celebration of the central role that Sacred Natural Sites (known as Zwifho) play in retaining the resilience of mupo.

The day was organised by Dzomo la Mupo (Voices of the Earth), a community based organisation made up of representatives from a number of neighbouring Venda clans. Established in 2008, they have together mapped their territory and are now presenting these maps to Cultural Heritage organisation SAHRA in order to gain recognition of their Sacred Sites network and their traditional governance systems in which these sites are central. Three of the seven clans who have presented their applications to SAHRA attended Mupo Day to talk about the application process and their role as Custodians of these sites. They showcases maps and materials which made up the application.

One member of Dzomo la Mupo, Joyce vhoMakhadzi explains why the day, and the application for registration of their Sacred Sites is so important: “Our Zwifho are part of us. We cannot be disconnected from them or people will suffer. They face many threats from mining and tourism and we want to ask people to stop and to respect them. We invite people to talk to us about this and to understand. We pray to our ancestors for support but we are also reaching out to the government. We, the Custodians of Zwifho, are not putting money as priority. We are putting all of life as the priority.”

Speeches throughout the day included a welcome address, talks from Venda elders and presentations from a number of Dzomo la Mupo and Mupo Foundation members. Representatives from Tshidzivhe, Vhutanda and Ramunangi clans also hosted displays of eco-cultural maps and calendars, which they have developed with the support of local NGO The Mupo Foundation.

Flavour and colour were themes which echoed through the day. Traditional food was provided for visitors by the community. Dzomo la Mupo have been working to identify and revive their indigenous seed varieties and these were also on display. Traditional seeds are celebrated by the community as the basis of local diets for thousands of years but are now much threatened by the encroachment of western foods, high in fats and sugars.

Mphatheleni Makaulule from The Mupo Foundation commented “Over 300 people came along to enjoy the celebration and to meet knowledgeable elders, who have experienced their lives with an understanding of the meaning of Mupo. It was a chance for people to understand more about the rich heritage of one of South Africa’s indigenous communities. It was the most vibrant and colourful day with many displays of traditional Venda dance performed by school children wearing traditional dress.”

View a Photo Gallery of the Day! (with thanks to Matt Chennels & Tom Perkins for their wonderful photographs capturing the energy and colour of the day).

Background information:

The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) is the national administrative body for South Africa’s cultural heritage:

On Monday 10th September 2012 an application was submitted to SAHRA by Dzomo la Mupo. Dzomo la Mupo (Voices of the Earth) are a community based organisation established in 2009 in order to raise awareness from local to international level about their cultural and natural heritage, and about the significance of this remarkable network of sacred forests, a cornerstone for a healthy ecosystem and livelihoods in Venda region.

Each clan prepared a dossier of information including forest profiles, GPS and community maps, and “Constitutions”, the origin and structure of each clan and their relationship to their zwifho (sacred natural sites). Chennells-Albertyn lawyers submitted the Dzomo la Mupo applications to SAHRA on 10th September. SAHRA’s initial response has been positive and will meet with Dzomo la Mupo on Friday 19th October in advance of the “Mupo Day” celebrations. A decision regarding the application is likely to be made later in the year.

The purpose for registering the community sacred forests with SAHRA is to protect these sites through: i) registration of the sacred natural sites (‘zwifho’ in Venda language); ii) government recognition of the rights and responsibilities of the community custodians to protect their network of community sacred forests.

Venda’s network of sacred natural sites has been recorded with the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) as an Indigenous and Community Conservation Area (ICCA). Furthermore, a range of materials, including film and public presentations by Dzomo la Mupo, have caught the attention of policy-makers, media and the general public around the threats to sacred natural sites, especially from the global surge in mining activities.

Over the last year, 11 clans have been defining the principles or guidelines that are common to safeguarding all sacred forests in Venda – ancestral knowledge that has been transferred from generation to generation. The sacredness of a Zwifho (Sacred Natural Site) extends vertically, beyond the subsoil deep into the Earth, and up through the sky to celestial constellations.

Dzomo la Mupo have been supported in this work by Venda based NGO The Mupo Foundation

Sacred Voices

Joyce vhoMakadzhi, an active member of Dzomo la Mupo also features in the film Sacred Voices, which was released online last month. The short film brings together the voices of a number of Sacred Natural Sites Custodians from across Africa, asking for respect and understanding regarding the importance of these ecological refuges. You can watch the film here: