Ngano is a Tshivenda word for fairytales. Ngano are usually related by senior members of the family, particularly mothers and grandmothers. Family members gather around tshivhaso (fireplace) in autumn and winter to enjoy the harvest after toiling in the fields in spring and summer. Storytellers take turns to relate Ngano. The storyteller starts by saying “ salungano salungano” , meaning ‘ like a fairytale like a fairytale’ , and the listeners respond by saying“saalungano” . The storyteller tells the fairytale and listeners keep saying “saalungano” after every sentence made by the storyteller. This is to indicate that they are listening and are interested in the fairytale told. The storyteller can also stand up and dance to dramatise what s/he is relating.

The characters in the Ngano are usually humans and animals. Animals are given a voice and portrayed as interacting with humans and talking like humans. Animals can be portrayed as mischievous, intelligent, stupid, cunning, unreliable, evil, kind, etc. A rabbit/hare ( muvhuda) is portrayed as both intelligent and mischievous, and it goes by the name of Sankambe, while a baboon (pfene ) is portrayed as stupid and goes by the name of Mudzhou.

Hyenas, owls, and snakes (with the exception of pythons) are the most hated creatures in the Tshivenda culture since they are regarded as the agents of evil. It is believed that witches and wizards use them for witchcraft purposes. This belief is reflected in all fairytales where hyenas, owls, and poisonous snakes are featured. The Tshivenda word for hyena is phele , while an owl is called gwitha . A person whose behaviour and conduct are regarded as despicable is usually referred to as a phele or gwitha.

A jackal ( phungubwe ) is portrayed as a thief, unreliable, and selfish. Carnivores such as lion ( ndau ), leopard (didinngwe ), and cheetah ( nngwe ) play interchangeable roles. They are sometimes portrayed as bloodthirsty creatures, while at other times they are portrayed as saviours. A lion, like in most African cultures, is usually portrayed as the King of all animals.

Elephant ( ndou ), the most beloved and respected animal in the Tshivenda culture is always portrayed as the wisest of all animals and as the Lion’s chief advisor.

The python ( tharu ) is the only snake that is revered in the Tshivenda culture. It is seen as a symbol of fertility and long lasting life. That is why maidens who perform the domba dance join hands and arms and move like a python. It is also believed that Lake Fundudzi , the only natural lake in South Africa , is guarded by pythons that live beneath its waters. It is also believed that, in the ancient days, these pythons would drink most of the water from the lake when they were upset a dn that there would be drought in the whole of Vendaland. These pythons had to be appeased by the community through the sacrificing of a virgin who would disappear into the lake and would never be seen again. The ritual to appease the pythons would be led by the Netshiavha/Netshiheni royals who are still regarded as the custodians of the lake.

The Fairytale of the Virgin who Caused the Drought

There is a fairytale about a girl whose marriage was arranged by her family and her husband’s family. The girl agreed to marry the man even though she had never met him. She went to live in her husband’s homestead but months passed without her seeing her husband. When she wanted to know where he husband was, the first wife, Vho-Nengome, would tell her that she was not allowed to set her eyes on him, and that all she needed to do was to cook for him and feel him when he visited her at night.

The girl would prepare lunch for her husband everyday, and would leave the meals in the hut. She would then go to work the fields and return late in the afternoon. She would always find clean plates and would be told that her husband ate the meals. Curiosity got the better of her and one day she hid in the bushes to see the husband she had never met. At lunchtime she saw a huge python making its way to the hut where she left the lunch. She then proceeded to the hut and saw the python eating the food she prepared. She screamed and the python left the hut and disappeared from sight.

The girl went back home and told her parents she was not going to have a snake for a husband. But, unfortunately, the lake started drying and the rains stopped falling. There was drought in the land. Community leaders consulted diviners, chief priests, and rainmakers to no avail. Rituals were performed but still the heavens refused to open up. The drought continued for years.

Then one night Chief Netshiavha/Netshiheni was visited by Raluvhimba (the Venda High God) who told him that the rain gods had been insulted, and the virgin who insulted the gods should be sacrificed. Chief Netshiavha/Netshiheni did not know who the guilty virgin was. He called a community meeting and told the community what Raluvhimba had told him.

Diviners were summoned to point out the culprit. They threw their divination bones ( thangu ), and revealed that the guilty virgin was the one married to a python, and that she angered the rain gods by casting her eyes on the python.

After hearing that, the girl leapt forward and confessed that she was the one who cast her eyes on her python husband. She even declared that she was ready to be sacrificed for the sake of the community.

The day was set when the entire community would gather for a religious ritual. Mpambo , sorghum beer used in religious rituals, was brewed.

Oxen, sheep and goats were slaughtered on the day of the ritual. The chief priest, tshifhe , announced that the girl should take the meat and the beer to the lake and offer them to the gods. The girl obeyed the instruction and walked to the lake carrying mpambo and meat. She went into the lake while everybody was watching. Suddenly there was thunder. The girl started disappearing from sight, and the heavens opened up. It is said that it rained for seven days and nights.

The domba dance, performed by maidens, is a way of paying tribute to the pythons at Lake Fundudzi .

Women relating fairytales.