The Venda Snake Dance (also know as the Python Dance) is performed at a ‘Domba’, a Venda pre-marital initiation ceremony, which is held at the request of the chief towards the end of winter. This ‘rite of passage’ event symbolizes the last day in the life of a Venda girl or boy.  Various rituals are particular to the Venda and certain aspects are kept secret and not discussed with westerners, however, it is known that the python dance, conducted at the female coming of age ceremony is usually where the chief chooses a wife.

Girls dance fluidly, like a snake, to the beat of a drum, while forming a chain by holding the forearm of the person in front. Once a wife has been chosen, the tribe spend the next few days with grooming and courting rituals.


Venda people

Not to be confused with Vedda people.
For other uses, see Venda (disambiguation).
The Venda (Vhavenda or Vhangona) are a Southern African people living mostly near the South African-Zimbabwean border. The bantustan of Venda was created to become a homeland for the Venda people. The Venda people, like their Tsonga neighbours, are South Africa’s minority groups, they currently number 700 000 speakers in Limpopo Province, while the Tsonga at their doorsteps number 900 000 people, also in Limpopo province.


The Venda people are originally from the Congo and the East African Rift, migrating across the Limpopo river during the Bantu expansion.[4][5]

The Venda of today are descendants of many heterogeneous groupings and clans such as:

Dzindou dza Hakhomunala Mutangwe / Dzatshamanyatsha
Dzindou dza Vharundwa / Dza Mitshetoni /Dza Manenzhe
Masingo; and
Runganani(marungadzi nndevhelaho)
Vhadau, Vhakwevho, Vhafamadi, Vhania, Vhangona, Vhalea, and Vhaluvhu were collectively known as Vhangona. The Vhangona and Vhambedzi are considered to be the original inhabitants of Venda and the first people to live there.

The land of Vhangona was later settled by Karanga-Rodzvi clans from Zimbabwe: Vhatwanamba, Vhanyai, Vhatavhatsindi, and Vhalembethu. Masingo, Vhalaudzi, and Vhalemba are late arrivals in Venda.

According to one version of Vhangona oral history the capital of Vhangona was Mapungubwe with the Raphulu Royal House as the most senior royal house of the Vhangona. According to this version the Vhangona Kingdom had approximately 145 chiefdoms and a King (Thovhele). It is said that the Kingdom was divided into seven districts:

Tshamanyatsha; and
These districts were ruled by District Chiefs (Mahosi Mahulu), as follows:

Mudzanani/Nesongozwi (Dzanani);
Nembilwi (Mbilwi);
Netswime (Tswime);
Netshiendeulu (Tshiendeulu);
Netshakhuma (Tshakhuma);
Netshamanyatsha (Tshamanyantsha); and
Makhahani (Thulamela).
Each district had Vhamusanda (Junior Chiefs) who paid tribute to Mahosi Mahulu. This tradition states that one of the Vhangona kings was King Shiriyadenga whose royal kraal was at Mapungubwe. It is not clear if this Shiriyadenga is the same Shiriyedenga of the Sanga dynasty, a Karanga-Rozvi branch. The Sanga dynasty, in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, was founded by Chiphaphami Shiriyedenga who died in 1672. Could it be that at one point the Karanga-Rodzvi Empire extended beyond the Vhembe (Limpopo) River, and that the Vhangona, though not Karanga-speaking, were at one point under Karanga-Rodzvi rule?

The other version of Vhangona history disputes that the Vhangona were ever united under one chief or king. It says that the Vhangona had different independent chiefdoms and that the Vhangona chief of Nzhelele valley was Tshidziwelele of the Mudau clan. What is clear, however, is that the Vhatwanamba, who were of Karanga-Rodzvi origin, conquered Vhangona clans who lived in Mapungubwe, Musina, Ha-Tshivhula, Ha-Lishivha, Ha-Matshete, Ha-Mulambwane, and Ha-Madzhie (the areas of Ha-Tshivhula, Ha-Lishivha, Ha-Matshete, and Ha-Mulambwane are known today as Alldays and Waterpoort).

Mapungubwe was the center of a kingdom with about 5,000 people living at its center. Mapungubwe as a trade center lasted between 1030 and 1290 AD. The people of Mapungubwe mined and smelted copper, iron and gold, spun cotton, made glass and ceramics, grew millet and sorghum, and tended cattle, goats and sheep.

The people of Mapungubwe had a sophisticated knowledge of the stars, and astronomy played a major role not only in their tradition and culture, but also in their day-to-day lives. Mapungubwe traded with ancient Ethiopia through the ports of Adulis on the Red Sea and the ports of Raphta (now Quelimani) and Zafara (now Sofala) in Mozambique.

Mapungubwe predates the settlements at Great Zimbabwe, Thulamela and Dzata. It is believed that people left Mapungubwe for Great Zimbabwe because Great Zimbabwe was judged to have a more suitable climate.

The Venda were recognised as a traditional royal house in 2010 and Toni Mphephu Ramabulana has been acting king since 2012. In September 2016 Princess Masindi Mphephu, daughter of Tshimangadzi Mphephu (Venda Chief during 1993-1997), challenged her uncle Ramabulana for the throne. She claimed that she wasn’t considered a candidate for gender reasons[6]

On December 14, 2016 she lost this battle in court when the Thohoyandou High Court dismissed the case.[7]

Venda Education Transformation

In the 1970s Vhavenda people were the poorest and least-educated black group in South Africa. To entice them to accept independence the South African government built a parliament, administrative offices and cabinet ministers’ houses.

The old government under Mphephu heavily subsidized education in the form of free text books and near zero school fees, even though the government lacked sufficient funds to build proper schools and more emphasis was on excellence and hard work. Today Vendas are one of the most distinguished black South Africans when it comes to education.


This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “Venda People”, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0

© 2017, Onkweni Royal Cultural Festival