Thursday, January 24, 2008, 03:30 AM
Posted by Michaela Barrett
Even as our course comes to an end, we continue to experience the unique cultures of South Africa. On Tuesday, January 22, we visited the Lesedi Cultural Village which is located about forty minutes outside of Johannesburg. Lesedi is a place where people can experience and interact with the cultures of the Zulus, Xhosas, Basothos, and the Pedi. All four cultures are native to South Africa, although each have unique characteristics. Lesedi is known as the “Cradle of Living African Culture”.
Upon arrival to Lesedi, we were able to explore the market and accommodations that are available to visitors. The market contained many of the goods we have seen throughout our journey in South Africa, although there was a significant amount of unique bead work offered by the women. Many of the cultural outfits that the women wore from the different tribes are intricately designed with colorful beads. The accommodations that are available are in the traditional architectural style. The walls are made of stone and are painted in bright colors and fantastic designs. The paint that is used was introduced by the missionaries, which replaced the traditional use of dung and pigment.
We were able to tour the Lesedi Cultural Village and visit each individual tribe. The Village was separated so that each tribe had their own land and distinctive space. The villages were set up to mimic the traditional villages of the Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, and Basotho people. Each tribe had an entry gate that required permission to enter the village. Our guide taught us how to ask for entry into each of the villages. We were able to learn about some customs and traditions in each of the four villages. The layout of the huts, the weapons used, the roles of the family, and the ways of life for each of the cultures varied.
The common thread I found throughout the different villages was the role that men and women played. Our guide made it a point in each village to announce how much it cost to buy a wife. There was a definite disparity between the status of men and women, and this hierarchy was culturally accepted. Often times men would buy more than one wife if he could afford them. In addition, wives were desirable if they were hard workers, beauty was just an added bonus.
As a class, we have read about the role of women in South Africa during apartheid. In the book entitled Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane, Mark’s parents are an example of this family dynamic. Problems arise when Marks’ mother disagrees with her husband’s ideas of what is important. Mark’s mother stresses the importance of education to enable him to leave the township, while Mark’s father believes that education is useless. The father is constantly reminding his wife that he bought her, and that she is acting out of line. Although Mark’s mother ends up being right about the importance of education, by challenging this predetermined role, she puts a strain on the entire family.
Tor further our cultural understanding at Lesedi, we watched the traditional dances of the villages. Each village wore different clothing and practiced varying techniques. They all danced to the beat of the drum, although the meanings of each dance varied. After the dancing, we went to the Lesedi Restaurant where we enjoyed a buffet of traditional African foods. Some of the dishes offered were Nguni beef, Bushveld lamb, African fowl, and homegrown maize. As we have traveled throughout South Africa, we have continued to experience new foods.
One very important recurring theme that we have experienced throughout this trip is the importance of tourism for cultural survival. Lesedi Cultural Village is a fantastic way to continue educating and making people aware of the origins and traditions that many South Africans derive from. Without a place like Lesedi, many people would only have the opportunity to see the here and the now; the townships and the Waterfront in Cape Town. Lesedi Cultural Village is a way to preserve the history and also keep it alive. Without tourism though, a place like Lesedi would not survive. By visiting the Village, buying goods from the market, and enjoying lunch, we have helped preserve he amazing culture of Africa. As the Lesedi brochure says, “A man without culture is like a zebra without stripes.” – Old African proverb