THE VENDA SACRED WALK
The Ecopsychology Africa “Venda Sacred Walk” is conceptually and experientially unique. It was inspired by Ecopsychology Africa and made a reality by Nelson Maphaha and Thamba Masindi of the African Ivory Route. This culturally sensitive community project is managed by the African Ivory Route and facilitated by Ecopsychology Africa.
The Venda Sacred Walk is limited to a few walks per year. A maximum of 8 participants are accommodated for on this immersive and exclusive pilgrimage into the sacred heartland of Venda. We experience the living spirituality of sacred Lake Fundudzi and The Thathe Sacred Forest- sites that are still revered as sacred to the people living there today. Our walks are totally ‘off the tourist track’, providing participants with an immersive, unsanitised and meaningful experience. Participants learn about Africa and African culture, environmentalism, and themselves on their journey.
The Venda Sacred Walk is facilitated by clinical psychologists and combines wilderness, culture, meditation, adventure, fun, deep conversation and spirituality in an integrated way. Traditional culture is left totally intact, we sleep in traditional huts and eat traditional food. For the entire walk we know exactly where our organic food is coming from. No adjustment to daily life by the communities involved is made in any way to accommodate our groups. We experience Venda culture just as it is. All these factors combine to form a uniquely enriching experience for all who participate.
The Venda Sacred Walk was inspired by a passion for, and love of the people of Venda. It was a vision that took over a decade to become a practical reality and that required total dedication, resoluteness and commitment. The communities involved in our project derive significant social and economic benefits so much so that Chief Kennedy Tshivase met with Ecopsychology Africa to express his appreciation of, and support for the project that brings respectful tourism to this beautiful and isolated region of Limpopo. This joint initiative of Ecopsychology Africa and the African Ivory Route provides a viable alternative to the proposed open cast coal mining in this environmentally and culturally fragile region of South Africa.
I was drawn to the Sacred Venda Trail when I realized it would be a combination of walking through beautiful countryside, getting to stay in villages with local people, and experiencing traditional dance and music. The trail exceeded my expectations. The Venda countryside is amazingly beautiful, but it was meeting the people and interacting with them, that was special. Without exception they were kind and hospitable, and generous in every way, sharing their homes, their food, their music, and their traditions. Our guides were very professional, knowledgeable, and warm. They made us feel welcome. Their translating skills made it possible to interact with the people in the villages in a most meaningful way. Altogether this was a unique experience. The challenges provided an edge of excitement. I left Venda with a sense of great sadness that something very special had ended, but with a wealth of memories, and feeling invigorated.
I said yes to the walk without knowing anyone or how I would cope physically (I visualised being airlifted out with heat exhaustion etc). But with all the political turmoil going on, I needed some reassuring connection to Africa. So, I trusted (while simultaneously doing some serious overthinking ) and that in itself was lifechanging.
Every day was full but so well organised that we simply flowed with it. We walked over rolling hills dotted with homesteads, and each evening we were welcomed very warmly by our new hosts who had prepared our red earth rondavels and an abundance of wholesome homegrown food. And they enveloped us with their dances and mind-altering music. The Venda are renowned for their strong culture and maybe that is why the rural people here emanate self-respect and wellbeing.
Our route took us to places of both spiritual and natural beauty and as the days passed, we bonded with each other and with our three guides who shared their knowledge of the area and their traditions generously. They were more than kind, and everywhere we went we felt old perceptions on both sides crumbling and laughter taking over. I think that the friendship we experienced is what will stay with me forever and give me courage as we move forward into an uncertain future. Community tourism seems a very fun way to go.
The gentle rain and mist on our first day was ethereal and mystical, the land magnificent, untouched and pristine. I connected strongly with the earth. It was a time for introspection, connection with myself and nature. A time to get back to a life of simplicity.
The hospitality and warmth shown by the villagers was huge, although sometimes overwhelming and I grappled with my need for space, silence and rest after a day of walking. The generosity of the villagers in welcoming us was remarkable. I was touched by their humility and kindness, moved by their humanity. Loved their music and dance.
I found myself in a different head space where I didn’t feel the need to engage deeply with others. I felt absorbed in my own process. It gave me an opportunity to feel self-sufficient and self-contained. It was also a time to re-evaluate my sense of independence, with a realisation that I can soften my edges and I don’t always have to do it alone. I loved being a witness to the unfolding of everyone’s process and blossoming, personal and brave challenges, open heartedness, sharing, camaraderie, an exquisite mother/son relationship, and so much more.
Eating with the villagers, sleeping on the ground, bucket bathing, long-dropping, letting go of the fussiness and complexity of city life made for a wholesome enriching experience. Every bite of the home grown avocado on bread was savoured with delight and appreciation. I became more mindful and I realised that I complicate my life with variety and choices.
It was a privilege to be on foot off the beaten track visiting sacred sites. A highlight was the time spent at the Tshatshingo potholes, a somewhat frightening marvel of nature. Just a short climb and an opportunity for an adventure to explore beyond what was visible presented itself. Artemis in her element! Time constraints didn’t allow full freedom to explore, but the knowing remains that this spot will always be there, waiting for us to revisit. Privileged, indeed.
It’s been a valuable exercise for me to apply my mind once again to my experience in Venda, and to feel gratitude and enriched.
Initially I felt horrified at the tourist aspect of it but somehow, perhaps because we were the first group, or because the Venda folk were so kind and generous, it didn’t feel awful. In fact, it felt loving and embracing and I think the fact that we walked the route had something to do with that.
I had a very profound experience at the potholes, clearing old baggage and emerged from the icy water of the top pool feeling greatly unburdened. The feeling has remained all this time.
I feel also very blessed by the members of the group who supported one another and added to the deep tapestry of the process that unfolded. Jeff’s unobtrusive presence and facilitation of each of our personal journeys was wonderful. It seems like each person, brought together so serendipitously, brought a gift that each one of us needed. Our resident shaman added another wonderful element and as the group will remember, nature came to meet us time and again (think snake eagle, snake in mouth, at the pot holes, finding of the bones, fish eagles and pythons at the scared lake Fundudzi and so much more)
It’s hard to describe how profoundly moving it was to walk through the pristine wildness of the lake, to sleep in villages on hilltops, simple yet completely satisfying to all the senses. To be free for some days from consumerism and technology was liberating.
I was held by people I found I could trust, and as my feet set up a rhythm and moved forward, my spinning head could rest. I could touch into that deep heart connection with others, much stronger and more alive than all the divisive stuff. The vulnerability and positivity and laughter and sheer beauty of other people. The Nature and the simplicity of lifestyle rooted me again.
Afterwards that feeling nourished a more secure foundation that has stayed, and also a confidence in myself that I had just upped and done it, regardless of the space I was in.
My wife and I came to our trek seeking little more than a fun and interesting excursion through beautiful scenery, and an introduction to a land and people with which we had no prior knowledge.
What we received was a transformative experience that profoundly impacted us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, while delivering a deeper insight into the rich Venda culture, the delicate and endangered ecological systems of South Africa, and even our own psychological selves.
We felt truly privileged to be so warmly welcomed by the Venda people as honoured guests and given open access to the details of their intricate and beautiful traditions. No question went unanswered. Every member of the Venda – from our guides and hosts to elders, traditional healers and leaders – put forth every effort to make us feel at home among friends.
The ethereal landscapes awed us and further emphasized our dire need to understand and protect our environment at home and abroad. The interconnected relationship of the Venda culture with their land is a blessing to resist the encroachment of invasive species and practices that threaten both.
We can only hope the gifts and words we offer a meagre thank you to the Venda in exchange for the impactful memories they provided us which will last a lifetime.
Wow! What an incredible week it has been. What a journey we have all been on! So totally awesome.
I am so grateful for the privileged opportunity. It really feels like it has been a powerful rite of passage. I sense that Venda has penetrated deeply into my DNA as I ingest and digest her rich nutrients and into my system …
I am simply overwhelmed with the people of Venda, their warmth and generosity is overwhelming. They are such warm loving people. Walking through their land and ingesting their simple food and their incredible hospitality has been wonderful nutrition for my body and my soul.
Thamba and Nelson are such incredible men. I sense that you have had such a powerful impact on their development and have been an important mentor to them both.
You are doing such important work in such a selfless way. I honour you and salute you for your commitment to your vision that is so vital for the future of this beautiful, sacred land. I really hope that our president gets to walk the sacred path with you soon!
I first want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your commitment to the future of Venda and its people, your willingness to share the beauty of Venda with others, your personal sacrifice in terms of resources and time, the way you put the itinerary of the walk together, is a blessing to all of Venda and all the participants of the walk. I will forever remember this walk as an ongoing inward journey in surroundings that are sacred, beautiful, awe inspiring and peaceful. The inherent humbleness, generosity of spirit and heart, the joy, the music, the peace of the Venda people leave me speechless and make me uncomfortable if I look at the life I lead. What an example I’ve been shown to follow!!! It was a deeply moving, humbling soul journey to me that will impact choices I make in future.
I cannot thank you enough for the amazing opportunity you gave me to walk the sacred lands of Venda and to experience the magical powerful spiritual local music. My life has taken on a new meaning because of this very uniquely powerful week.
I truly appreciated the opportunity—rare and valuable–to be a guest in these villages, and to envelop all the senses in the environment surrounding them. There is no better way to illustrate the need for serious attention to conservation in areas like these, than by actually seeing lands that are already damaged by roads and monoculture…but then to realize the threat of mining that is quite literally over the shoulders of the people (and all other living things) in these villages and valleys is a startling, unsettling, but necessary wake-up call. This chance to experience the land is one that I would dearly love to give my students, because it is lasting and important in ways that cannot be captured in books and lectures. I hope that I can gather a few to join another expedition in the future!
On another note, the people themselves were unforgettable, as was the food, the music, and the dancing. If I had to choose one event that was most significant and meaningful to me, it was the Tshikona dance. That was such an incredibly immersive experience that was made even MORE memorable because we knew that it was the first time you had visited that village, too—wow, what an AMAZINGLY humbling experience to see that in person, to be invited guests!! I will never forget the chief of that village during the dance, his passion and energy….and the sound and the swirling and the dancing….without a doubt, one of the very, very fortunate times I was in the right place to experience something so beautiful…..I came away with what I expected: a greater appreciation for the culture of the people of Venda, a renewed sense of connection to land, and an even deeper commitment to sharing this kind of knowledge with my own students. I’ll be telling them everything, and I will be in touch in the near future to see what we might be able to plan for them!
Talk to you soon and THANK YOU!!! What the world needs is more people like YOU who care so deeply about people and places like these, where so often voices can go unheard in the overwhelming dissonance and noise of development. May more people learn how to LISTEN, before these voices are lost.
The Sacred Venda walk has had a profound impact on me. It arrived at a point where I needed a serious reset in my life, where I have had many patterns and constructs that were no longer serving me. The contrast that was created by the introspective nature of the walk to the real life was undeniable and shocking to me upon return. It could clearly see what was working for me and what had to be readjusted.
The environment on the walk was slow, connected and at peace. Restorative, and slowly gently revealing. Until today I have managed the best out of all my previous attempts to remain in that mindset, to keep that calm and collected space.