01 December 2010 by Chris Marais

No-Nonsense Noria

The legendary Venda artist Noria Mabasa sits under an avocado tree, surrounded by wild spinach, tomatoes, cabbages and maize. And here, in this comfortable fecund place, she picks up a tambotie truncheon and chisel.

Noria begins peeling away little white flakes from the metre-high slab of ironwood.

Under her firm and exact ministrations, the face of a woman slowly emerges out of the wood.

She says this is her favourite place to carve, here underneath the avocado tree, with the vegetables she has planted only metres away. Close by, some doves flutter in a large aviary.

The bottom of the garden, all around us, is peopled by friendly clay Venda figures. I feel in the company of silent friends, watching Noria chip away.

“You see this?” she asks me suddenly, wielding the wooden truncheon with which she whacks the chisel.

“This is tambotie. With this, I buy a house, with this I buy a car.” She grins at me and we fall into contemplative silence again.

That night, Noria and her woman students are having a hearty drumming party. Noria keeps the bass stroke, firm and ruthlessly steady as a heartbeat, whacking the drum. A very strong woman. I’d hate to get in the way of her downstroke. She might drum me down to my very essence. And then what?

Category: Culture & History

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