Vhavenda, like other African nations, believed in the existence of a Supreme Being long before the arrival of European missionaries. The Vhavenda name for God was/is Nwali (Mwali). He was also known as Raluvhimba.

Vhavenda believed that Nwali/Raluvhimba was a universal god and that he was the only creator of mankind on earth. They therefore referred to Him as Musika Vhathu or Mutumbuka Vhathu (creator of mankind).

Nwali was the provider of rain which Vhavenda depended on for their survival. He was also the protector and defender of Vhavenda.

It was believed that Nwali used to visit his people and that his arrival was preceded by the sudden cracking of thunder up to the sky. The people would look up in the sky, ululating and dancing while welcoming the arrival of Nwali. In 1917 a meteor, which bust during daytime, made a thunderous noise along the Soutpansberg mountain range and led to people believing that Nwali was visiting Venda.

Vhadzimu are ancestors. According to Vhavenda cultural standards, ancestors are those people who died at a mature age or as parents. Ancestors are not on the same level as Nwali, and are not in competition with Nwali. It is believed that every mortal human being is a sinner and that human beings have no right to communicate directly with Nwali, who is holly. Living beings can only send their messages to God via the ancestors since ancestors are immortal beings and are no longer capable of sinning.

Ancestors are intermediaries between Nwali (God) and mortal beings. Ancestors deliver people’s prayers, offerings and messages to Nwali. They also deliver Nwali’s blessings and messages to living beings. So, the offerings that are performed to venerate, to appease, to make offerings to the ancestors, to thank Nwali, or to ask for blessings, are a way of maintaining the relationship between living beings and the ancestors to ensure that prayers and offerings are delivered to Nwali and that Nwali’s blessings are received. But Westerners misunderstood this relationship and referred to the sending of prayers to God (Nwali) via the ancestors as ancestral worshipping.

The idea of certain sites being portals to the other world seems to be a universal one. It is believed that the passage of time is not absolute or universal. The passage of time is relative to the place and motion of the observer. The passage of time in the other world is believed to be far slower than the passage of time on Earth. For example, what on Earth is 200 years could be a few hours in the other world. This makes a lot of sense when considering that within our solar system what is considered a year depends on the planet’s proximity to our star (the sun) and how long a planet takes to orbit the sun. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit the sun, Mercury takes 88 Earth days to orbit the sun. This means that a year on Mercury is 88 Earth days. On the other hand, Neptune takes 165 Earth years to orbit the sun. This means that a year on Neptune is the equivalent of 165 years on Earth. A being or creature born on Neptune 165 Earth years ago, is 1 Neptune year old (if there’s life on Neptune).

Since the passage of time on Neptune is far slower than the passage of time on Earth, beings or creatures on Neptune would age far slower than beings and creatures on Earth. A 100 year old Neptunian would be 16 500 Earth years. To Earthlings, 16 500 Earth years sounds like an infinite period.

In his well-researched book, Supernatural (Meetings With the Ancient Teachers of Mankind), Graham Hancock demonstrates that thickets, springs, wells and caves were, around the world, widely believed to serve as portals to dimensions or realms. Hancock gives, amongst others, the following as examples of belief and experience in the possible existence of the other world or dimension:

  1. Jack: Europe
    Jack and his cousin went for a stroll and lost each other. What Jack saw was fairies dancing, and he stopped to look at them and to listen to them for two to three hours, so he thought. Then Jack went home, and on the way he met a man who greeted him. The man who greeted Jack asked him if he was his cousin Jack. Jack responded in the affirmative, and asked his cousin how long it had been since they lost each other. The cousin responded ‘well, let me think. I’ve been married ten years and it was five years after losing you that I married. That makes fifteen years.’

    Jack thought he had only been in the company of fairies for a couple of hours.

  2. The Boy Who Entered The Circle of Fairies: Europe
    A boy, Robin Jones, saw fairies dancing and stood in the centre looking at them. The fairies invited him to their country. He agreed to go with them to their country, and he went down the steps with the fairies. In the land of the fairies, Robin was feasted and entertained overnight. The next day he was escorted to the top of the steps again. He made his way home. When he got to the house there were strangers. He told the strangers that his name was Robin Jones and that he was looking for his parents. The strangers told him that they had heard about a Robin who had gone into the fairy circle more than 100 hundred years before and was never seen again.

    Robin thought he had been away for a night. What was a night in the land of the fairies was more than 100 years on Earth.

  3. The Taoist Holy Man Wang Chi: China
    Gathering firewood in the mountains one day, Wang Chi came to a cave and saw inside it a group of elders playing chess. Laying down his axe, Wang Chi entered the cave to watch the game and soon afterwards one of the old men  gave him a capsule about the size of a date stone and instructed him to put it in his mouth. No sooner had he done so than hunger and thirst passed away. A few more hours passed, then another of the elders told him to go home since he had been gone for too long. When Ching Wang stepped out of the cave to pick up his axe, the handle had turned to dust. When he reached his home valley he discovered that not hours but centuries had passed since he left, and nothing remained of the world as he had known it.

Man From Muledane Believed to Be Receiving Training Underwater as A Healer

Africans also believe in the existence of another dimension or realm. All African cultures in South Africa believe that people chosen to be trained as great healers are taken to another dimension by the spirits. They are believed to be taken underwater since springs, rivers, waterfalls, wells, and pools are amongst the portals connecting our world to other dimensions.

In 1979, boys from Muledane village in Thohoyandou were fishing on the banks of Mvudi river. They claimed that while fishing they saw an unknown man with huge dreadlocks that almost touched the ground emerging out of the water and greeted them. The boys were filled with fear, and fled to the village where they told some elders, including the village chief, Mavhina, what they had witnessed.

It was agreed that the boys should go back to the fishing spot where they saw the man who frightened them. While the boys pretended to be fishing again, the elders hid in the bushes to see if the man would resurface. After a while, the man allegedly resurfaced from under the water to talk to the boys. The elders that were hiding recognised the man as a local who had disappeared without a trace in 1963. When they tried to apprehend him, he disappeared back into the waters of Mvudi river.

Word spread like wildfire that a local man that had been missing for sixteen years was spotted surfacing from the depths of Mvudi river and that his dreadlocks almost touched the ground. The man’s family consulted diviners who told them that the man had been taken to the other dimension and had been receiving training as dzolokwe / dzembelekete) (greatest healer and diviner). The family were told that the man was ready to come back and practice what he had been taught, and that for him to come back the family needed to perform certain rituals on the banks of Mvudi river.

Rituals the family were told to perform included the beating of spiritual and rhythmic drums, performances of ritual dances, libation (using Mpambo brew), as well as the slaughtering of goats and oxen to encourage the man to get out of the waters of the river.

Rituals were performed for almost a year, and the spot where the man was expected to surface became some kind of a tourist attraction or picnic spot for a while. There were daily updates on the story on the then Radio Thohoyandou and Radio Venda, as well as monthly reporting by Mvelaphanda magazine. But the man never surfaced. Eventually, the family gave up and interest in the story faded.

Some elders and cultural experts had warned, when the performance of rituals started, that the public performance of rituals would scare the man from surfacing. They had also stated that since he had disappeared years earlier, he probably had no idea how long he had been gone since he had been taken to another dimension where the passage of time was far slower than the passage of time on Earth. He could have been surprised by the modernisation that had taken place in a period he thought were a few minutes since he had been gone. (It is important to note here that the town of Thohoyandou was built from 1978, fifteen years after the man allegedly disappeared. When he was spotted in 1979, a lot had changed).

This story demonstrates that belief in portals into other dimensions, as well as the passage of time in those dimensions is a universal one.

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;
  • Vuvha;
  • 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.

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.

Venda’s sacred sites are under threat from developers and unscrupulous business people. Some mahosi (chiefs) have in recent years decided to develop areas where sacred sites are situated without consulting and seeking permission from the custodians of the sites. A good example is that of Phiphidi Waterfalls where the Tshivhase Development Foundation Trust tried to turn the site into a holiday resort. The Tshivhase Development Foundation Trust is an organisation registered under the name of Khosi Midiyavhathu Kennedy Tshivhase and the Tshivhase Traditional Council.

The Tshivhase Development Foundation Trust started developing the area where the sacred site is situated without consulting the Ramunangi clan, the owners and custodians of the site. The Ramunangi clan was barred from visiting the site and performing religious rituals. The Ramunangi clan, with the assistance of Dzomo la Mupo (a local NGO that supports local communities in preserving their culture and protecting the environment), obtained a court interdict against the Tshivhase Development Foundation Trust in July 2010. But the Tshivhase Development Foundation Trust ignored the interdict and continued with the illegal development. The Ramunangi clan went back to court in February 2011 and obtained another interdict. The development at Phiphidi Waterfalls was finally halted in July 2011 after the court ordered the developers to stop developing the area.

According to the Ramunangi clan, tradition dictates that the clan should gather at Phiphidi Waterfalls every year in September (traditionally the beginning of a new year) to perform religious rituals. Preparations include the brewing of Mpambo (sorghum beer brewed for religious rituals) which is consumed by all clan members prior to the pilgrimage to the sacred site. Then on a night chosen by the elders, following signs a such as mist, a selected group of spiritualists accompanies the senior Makhadzi (the clan’s senior aunt) to the sacred site to perform rituals which are kept secret from the rest of the clan. When they are done with the rituals, they hear sounds such as the beating of drums and tshikona music coming from under the water. The whole area is covered in mist. That is a sign that Nwali has heard their prayers and it will rain. And when it rains, all the people of the land, and not only the people of Ramunangi, benefit.

Dzomo la Mupo wants mahosi and business people to respect zwifho and zwitaka, the same way they respect temples, synagogues, churches, and mosques. It warns that violating sacred sites could lead to severe droughts and untold miseries being visited upon innocent people. According to Dzomo la Mupo, sacred sites are places where evaporation that leads to rain occurs. If pools such as Phiphidi Waterfalls are not protected, there would be no rain.

The occurrence of a solar eclipse, Mutshakavhili, in Venda was/is regarded as a visit by Nwali. Mutshakavhili literally means the sun that sets and rises twice in one day. People were not allowed to watch the event since it was believed that Nwali would be passing all over Venda on His way to His shrine in Makonde. It was believed that Mutshakavhili happened when Nwali was angry and that He had visited Venda to tell His people what He was not happy about.

After the solar eclipse had passed, Vhotshifhe (priests) would go to the cave on Mount Makonde to find out why Nwali was angry and what needed to be done to rectify the mistake and to pacify Nwali. After a meeting with Nwali, Vhotshifhe would deliver Nwali’s message to the Khosi of Makonde village. The Khosi of Makonde would then have the responsibility of passing on the message to the king of Venda.  The king would then order chiefs to call people in different areas to attend special gatherings and to explain to them why Nwali was angry and what needed to be done to pacify Him.

People in different areas would then set dates for religious ceremonies, thevhula. Mpambo would be brewed for the ceremonies. Bulls would be sacrificed on the day(s) of the ceremony and religious rituals would be performed to ask for forgiveness. Vhotshifhe would then deliver Mpambo, food, and anything that Nwali requested to the different shrines in Venda. All the offerings had to be placed at the entrances to the shrines. They would then wait to see if Nwali had accepted their apology. Fires would then spring from the shrines and consume all the offerings. Vhotshifhe would then go back to all chiefdoms to deliver good news. Thereafter people all over Venda would feast and tshikona would be performed. Nwali would then leave Mount Makonde and visit the other shrines on His way back to Malungudzi.

Tshikona Dance

Tshikona Dance