Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
In Africa, the dress code is more than just a fashion statement and the designers and tailors do not make these clothes simply for appearance’s sake.
Each colour, symbol, and even shape of the clothing has a very specific meaning or purpose.
African clothing can also be a symbol of creativity, status and allegiance to African tribal roots.
Different attires are worn with different symbols for specific functions like funerals or weddings.
Chiefs, traditional healers, elderly men and women also wear clothing with different symbols to show their status or positions in society.
Such is the story of the Vha Venda people who are settled mostly in Matabeleland South province in Zimbabwe and Limpopo Province across the Limpopo River in South Africa.
At the turn of the millennium, fashion has been evolving with many designs coming through from across the globe.
However, the Venda attire has, because of its uniqueness, stood the test of time.
In fact, the dressing has become a hit with people of all age groups in this part of the world..
Traditionally, this type of dressing included a wrap-around cloth, headdress and ornaments, including necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
Although certain clothes were since time immemorial worn for specific occasions, they can now be donned by anyone to show their pride and affection for the Tshivenda culture.
Colourful Tshivenda clothes can be seen at almost every social gathering around Beitbridge or towns in Limpopo province in South Africa during blissful or sorrowful moments.
These come in different colours, but with a vivid chevron pattern that has become synonymous with the Venda people. Beitbridge-based historian and a member of the local Venda Elders, Mr Ntshavheni Simuta Ndou, said they were working hard with several other community leaders to ensure that their culture was passed on from generation to generation.
“In most cases, these clothes were worn by the royals, but because fashion is evolving, the attire has become a hit among many people of various ethnicities,” he said. “Usually, the clothes were worn depending on events, gender or one’s social standing.
“However, this is no longer the case, people love the Venda fabric and it is a common phenomenon at most events or gatherings around our district and even inland Zimbabwe.”
Mr Ndou said in old days, the clothes would identify married women, young girls, widows, married men, young boys, and community leaders of repute, among others.
He said some popular women’s clothes among the Venda people included Mukasi, Misisi and Muthavhela (these are wrapped around the waist) and Minwenda (clothes usually thrown over the shoulders).
Other feminine clothing items include Luthomola tsiye (headgear), Tshitivhela Vivho (worn by the elder wife in a polygamy, and zwianda (worn on biceps).
“During rituals or burial, aunties, wear Mapala on the neck as they take charge of the programme,” said Mr Ndou. “The Makunda are worn by women on their legs around the sheens and young girls wear clothes known as Shedo and they usually keep the breast outside.”
Mr Ndou said men used to put on what is known as Tshindi; an animal skin used to cover genitals, but now the Venda fabric was being customised to blend with all fashion tastes.
He said the elders were working hard to ensure that the tradition is taught in initiation schools for both boys and girls.
Mr Ndou, a historian, also commended the Government for recognising Tshivenda as an official language in Zimbabwe.
“This will help us preserve our culture through the education of our children and all those willing to learn more about us,” said Mr Ndou.
“It is now up to those with the vast knowledge on the culture to create or come up with relevant content that ensures the true ethos and cultural heritage is preserved.
“The construction of cultural centres and regular hosting of culture days and revival of related events will help keep the Venda DNA intact.”
Beitbridge’s paramount traditional leader, Chief Tshitaudze (David Mbedzi), said development agencies and local authorities should channel more resources towards the construction of more cultural centres.
He said well-developed cultural centres were a key component that could help grow community-based tourism initiatives.
Chief Tshitaudze said it was critical for Zimbabweans to celebrate cultural diversity and to recognise the need to promote social cohesion for greater nation-building.
Women’s clubs around the district, he said, should take up business opportunities that come with the creation of the cultural centres.
He said they could sell curios, traditional baskets, meals, and clothing items, among other things.
In separate interviews, youths from across Beitbridge district said they were proud of their culture and the identity that comes with wearing related regalia.
“We feel proud when we dress up in Tshivenda clothes, they give us a sense of self-pride as young people,” said Miss Adrian Muleya from the Tshiraralani area.
“We must be proud of who we are and at the same time we must keep learning about our culture from the community elders, so that we may pass it to the next generation.”
Mr Raniel Ndou of Tongwe said Venda attire was one of the best in Africa.
He said one could use the fabric to design modern fashion tastes without losing the cultural identity.
“I feel proud to wear various designs of Tshivenda clothes and will continue to do so and the love for such clothes is also growing among my family members,” said Mr Ndou.
Miss Elizabeth Moyo said the construction of more cultural centres around Beitbridge will help to nature talent for those willing to pursue arts as a career.
The availability and accessibility of cultural information closer to the people, she said, would help to build the confidence of most young people who would learn a lot from historians and the community leaders at these centres.
“The sale of Tshivenda fabric has become a lucrative business because everyone here wants to at least have something with Venda colours in their wardrobes,” said Miss Moyo.
Miss Talent Moyo of the Tshapfuche area said she was earning a living from selling Venda fabrics.
She said sales peak during the wedding season between April and December and when people prepare for lobola negotiations.
She said the bulky of the buyers of the clothes that sell for around R100 per metre were Venda speakers.
Few others from a cross-section of tribes also buy the clothes.