Colorful Tshambuka

By Kylie Castleberry

I woke this morning under the shade of a runduval. There are sticks forming the tipi shaped roof, but the walls are smooth and white from the clay and dung that comprise the structure. Decorating the interior are beautiful traditional garments with stripped and checkered patterns, all of them equally as colorful. My back ached because I was sleeping on the equivalent of a concrete floor, gently reminding me that only a few days ago was my 27th birthday. The first sounds I heard were the cows. In every direction their deep groans echoed and the bells tightly fastened around their necks were like music for the valley. We started our day slowly, being first greeting by our housemother and the rest of the family before being served tea, bread, jam and fruit. We sat in a circle outside of our runduval, being warmed by the morning sun, and enjoyed our quiet breakfast. The stillness of the morning was something that I knew was only temporary, as soon many of the children of the village would be there, ready to play, laughing, shouting and hanging off our limbs with bright smiles.

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After breakfast we sat with our housemother for a bit and talked, somewhat awkwardly as our Venda is anything but fluent. We tried our best though, and that’s all you can do. There were a few moments before we left for the Sangoma, a traditional healer in Venda culture, so we played with the children while we waited. It was then that the family announced that they were going to kill the chicken and asked if one of us would like to do it. In the 16 countries I’ve traveled to, I still have not managed to watch an animal slaughtered in front of me and I felt, for a moment, like this was my time to not only watch, but also to do it myself. It was not until I walked over, the chicken being held down ready for its demise that I knew I couldn’t do it. The task is not one for the faint of heart, and was better equipped for the other member of my group, Hunter. Having grown up in an agricultural community, he knew exactly how to do it—and with great precision. Although I, myself, did not kill the chicken, I was grateful for the family’s hospitality and it was humbling to see the meat distributed to not only us, but also the family members. Not a single piece was wasted.

The remainder of the day was packed full of new experiences. We first journeyed to a neighboring village to see the sangoma, a local healer, who explained to us how she came to her calling, the various herbs that she utilized, and even told the interesting stories behind the hides and skins that lined the wall of her runduval, a place that she explained was sacred. The experience was something new for all of us, but it shed light on the paradox of healing, religion, and community that impact each and every village in Hamakuya.

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The final step in our day was an engagement party for two people in the Tshambuka village where we were staying. Before heading to the event, we were dressed by our homestay family in traditional garments called munwenda. Choosing from a pile that was brought into our runduval, a place I was already beginning to see as home, I found it difficult to decide what to wear. It wasn’t until a beautiful gold and black patterned set was brought out that I knew which one I would be wearing. Once dressed, we all made our way to the party and it was a delightful, strange, and unique experience that I absolutely loved. It was something I will never forget. Everyone there was dressed in traditional munwenda as well, their colors as vibrant as a painters pallet with music playing cheerful tunes in-between the plethora of speeches that were being given. If you had asked me I would have assumed it was a wedding, not merely an engagement party due to the extravagant nature of the entire event.

Natalie Miller