There are numerous sacred sites in Venda, referred to as Zwifho and Zwitaka. These are mostly caves, springs, rivers, waterfalls, pools, wells, gorges, thickets, dense forests, and lakes. These sites have traditionally been regarded as portals to the other world or dimension.
Some of the shrines are regarded as Zwifho zwa Nwali (Nwali’s Shrines). Tshifhe (priest) is the only person allowed to receive messages from Nwali and to communicate people’s wishes to Nwali. Each shrine had its own Tshifhe.
The best known Nwali shrine is at Makonde. This is where Tshifhe Muhulu (senior priest) resided. Oral history has it that the Makonde shrine was established by the Vhambedzi. The Vhambedzi kingdom stretched from Masvingo, Zimbabwe to Vhumbedzi, North-Eastern Venda. The Vhembe River (Limpopo River) was never a barrier between the people living on either side of the river. The Vhambedzi royal kraal was in Malungudzi (Marungudzi) in Masvingo. The Vhambedzi were renowned rainmakers.
The first Vhambedzi group to settle in North-Eastern Venda settled at Zwaluvhimbi, Ha-Makuya. From there the group settled at Ha-Luvhimbi and Makonde. Later the group split into two: Tshisinavhute and Luvhimbi. The Tshisinavhute group moved to Mianzwi, while the Luvhimbi group remained at Ha-Luvhimbi. It is believed that the two groups split due to the fact that Tshisinavhute, wanted to be chief but Luvhimbi would not allow her to be one.
The two Vhambedzi groups paid tribute to the King in Malungudzi. But later on great distances and the disintegration of Vhambedzi settlements led to the establishment of small autonomous groups at Ha-Luvhimbi and Mianzwi, and other lesser-known units at Ha-Mukununde, Tshikweta, and Masetoni. But whenever the South African Vhambedzi failed to cause rain to fall, they would send their messengers to Malungudzi where the Malungudzi Mbedzi would contact Nwali on behalf of Vhambedzi south of Vhembe.
When Ravhura fled from Dzata after Tshisevhe’s assassination, he settled at Makonde which was under Khosi Muthivhi. Ravhura became the new Khosi of Makonde. The Nwali shrine had already been established when Ravhura settled at Makonde. Nwali continued to visit Makonde and to communicate with Vhavenda from Mount Makonde even after Ravhura had settled at Makonde.
The other shrines which were visited by Nwali on his way to and from Makonde were at Ha-Tshivhula, Mudzivhadi (a few kilometres north of Makhado town), Donwa at Ha-Matsa, and Madindini a Nwali at Tshitangani (next to Lake Fundudzi).
The Tshivhula shrine was found at Mavhambo, west of the Soutpansberg mountain range (where the Soutpansberg range starts). The area was under Khosi Tshivhula whose jurisdiction included present day Vivo, Waterpoort, Mapungubwe, Alldays, and Musina. The Tshivhula community (Tshivhula/Sebola, Lishivha, Mulambwane and Machete) was forcibly removed from their land by successive Boer and apartheid governments. Some settled at Mufongodi (Straightheart) in Nzhelele, while some settled at present day Marobyane, Kromhoek, De Vrede, and Ga-Kibi.
The Donwa shrine at Ha-Matsa was, like most Venda shrines, a Ngona shrine and had been established long before the Singo conquest. Senior Singo chiefs and kings were not allowed to enter the Donwa shrine.
Other sacred sites still revered and utilised for thevhula (religious rituals) include:
- Mount Songozwi;
- Mashovhela (at Khavhambe, next to Manaledzi Tunnels);
- Mount Luvhola;
- Mount Tswime;
- Mount Lwandali;
- Thathe Forest;
- Phiphidi Waterfalls;
- Mungadi Forest (found at Ngovhela village);
- Vhutanda Forest;
- Khwevha Forest;
- Lake Fundudzi; and
- Tshiswavhathu Pool.
Mashovhela Rock Pool. Mashovhela – the place where drums can be heard. Mashovhela is one of the most sacred places in Tshivenda culture. This sacred site is still used by diviners and vhotshifhe (priests) in rain-making ceremonies.
The owners and custodians of the different sacred sites are Mukwevho (Luvhola), Nethathe (Thathe Forest), Ramunangi (Phiphidi Waterfalls), Nemungadi (Mungadi), Nevhutanda (Vhutanda), Nekhwevha (Khwevha), Netshiavha/Netshiheni (Lake Fundudzi), and Mamphwe (Tshiswavhathu Pool).
The Mount Songozwi site, found at Songozwi village, is where the Ramabulana-Mphephu chiefs and kings, and Sinthumule and Kutama chiefs are laid to rest. All Ramabulana-Mphephu kings, from King Makhado to Dimbanyika Thohoyandou II, and all Sinthumule and Kutama chiefs, from Sinthumule I and Kutama I, have been laid to rest at Songozwi.