Ribola Art Route – Limpopo

The Ribola Art Route in Limpopo is one of the most exciting tourism developments I have experienced in a long time. This vibrant art route offers authentic and creative experiences to its visitors, keeps the African tradition of storytelling alive, and empowers both budding and established artists and entrepreneurs.

The Ribola Art Route is a true melting pot of Tsonga, Venda and Shangaan cultures. It’s exciting, zesty, interactive and authentic. #LoveLimpopo

The man who listens to wood

“I collect all the dead wood for my carvings locally and for the bigger pieces I get help from a friend with a bakkie to get it back to my studio”, tells Patrick Manyike. He shows us a rough piece of wood he works slowly, but purposefully with simple tools until his vision takes shape. “The wood tells the story, all I do is cut away the nonessential parts.”

This unassuming, but incredibly talented young man used to clean floors in Joburg. “No matter how hard I scrubbed these floors”, says Patrick, “the following day they were dirty again”. This made him even more determined to come home and pursue his art.

When the acclaimed Thomas Kubayi took him under his wing, coached him, and taught Patrick wood carving skills, his exciting journey as an artist really took off. Now, you can find him most days sitting on his work bench surrounded by mystical creatures overlooking the valley and fish-like pieces dancing in the wind.

He stands proud among his sculptures inspired by nature and the many legends of the Limpopo region. Patrick’s connection with nature is strong and genuine. In return for the pieces of dead wood nature bestows him, he gives back by planting indigenous trees in his garden. He also mentors children in wood carving skills and has a vegetable garden to support the elderly in his local community.

Patrick is a true inspiration. Not only does he create incredible otherworldly creatures by carefully listening to dead wood, he understands and lives according to the true meaning of Ubuntu.

Patrick Manyike 7

Get creative – do Venda pottery

Awestruck. No potter’s wheels, no fancy tools, no kiln, and no commercially produced clay. With incredible pottery skills, turning clay into beautiful, authentic, honest, hand-built Venda pots.

PIC1We join four ladies from the Mukhondeni village in Florah Randela’s yard, sitting on pieces of carpet and wearing not so flattering aprons. Florah works the clay a little before putting us to work. The clay has a high silt and fine sand content and is simply collected from the banks of the Tshipise River.

We all have a plastic plate that serves as our potter’s wheel and start with a fat round sausage of clay, slowly working it with our fingers and kidneys into the desired shape. While we create our individual pots, we have the opportunity to chat to these skilled potters.

Esther Nesengani is a woman of few words, but a brilliant potter with quick and precise fingers. She shows us how to decorate our pots with the traditional geometric Venda designs in the distinctive red and black colours by using oxide from Zimbabwe and graphite. I admit, Paul’s pot is not so traditional…slugs really?

PIC6We don’t have time to dry our pots and have them fired, but the ladies demonstrate how their open-air kilns work and burn for up to 24 hours. It is mind-boggling how they manage to fire their large pots without breaking every single one.

Florah tells us she had a vision to pass on the skills of traditional Venda pottery making, when she started working with several ladies from the village. She formed a cooperative enabling each individual potter to earn an income from their own creations.

What a wonderful opportunity to meet these resourceful, determined and entrepreneurial women. I am in awe of their talent, creating the most incredible pots with such uncomplicated techniques and they are completely unassuming at the same time.

Finding your inner creative spirit at Twananani Textiles

While the sun is streaming through the windows, Florence Ngovheni and her co-worker sit quietly on the floor working on a colourful batik-style zebra design. Her colleague next to her is painting a gecko and warthog design, while one of the other ladies is ironing some of the finished cloths. The small building is a hive of activity, but still somehow radiates total tranquility.

Twananani Textiles, one of the oldest stops on the Ribola Art Route, is a collective of 24 women creating batik-style cloth with Tsonga designs and symbols. Some of the designs are traditional block prints inspired by the patterns used on the rondavels and surrounding decorative walls. Other motives are hand-drawn or traced onto the cloth, outlined with hot wax and painted with bright, colourful dyes.

Florence proudly shows us some of the other designs – the one even more vibrant and intricate than the other – before she invites us to literally get our hands dirty and design our own batik-style small tablecloth. Luckily, the Twananani team is on-hand to help with the various stages of the batik creation, which is a wonderful way to connect with these talented ladies even though my language skills let me down.

The experience not only gave me a renewed appreciation of the amount of work and skill involved in making these gorgeous batiks, but it was so much fun too. I would have happily stayed for the rest of the day, keeping those creative juices flowing, and just hang out with these beautiful souls.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to spend time to sit peacefully and be creative? Unfortunately, in our modern world we have this strange urge to fill every minute of the day checking our electronic devices, discovering our artistic side is something we don’t do often enough.

The Ribola Art Route near Elim, Limpopo, is easily accessible from Nahakwe LodgeThis story was made possible with the support from Transfrontier Parks Destinations.

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