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The artists of Venda are always producing new work. TTheir inspiration comes from a dream in the night, a sudden flash in the mind – or a morning of contemplation under a paw-paw tree. They scour their neighbourhoods for materials, scavenging shattered trees brought by the floods that have swept through these villages in past decades or working with richly-coloured clay to make the pots for which the region is so well-known.
This is Ribola art in action and these artists are the living heart of the Ribola Art Route.
Developed to support the area's artists, this route through a number of villages in northern Limpopo helps to put artists on the map, making it easier for visitors and art lovers to find them – and their work. Officially, the route stretches from northern Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg) towards Musina, before joining the R524 and R523 to the Punda Maria gate at Kruger National Park, where it joins the Hlanganani Route in the eastern part of the province.
Venda art is renowned all over the world. It's a safe bet that somewhere in New York today, a well-travelled Manhattan account executive will rest his eyes lovingly on the contours of a headless clay maiden, fashioned by Noria Mabasa or one of the artists who is following in her footsteps. In Hong Kong, a shipping mogul may lightly tap his manicured fingers on the stretched cowhide of a Phineas Masuvhelele drum, so large it dominates his Victoria Peak patio. And on a rainy morning in London, a young stockbroker may think back fondly on the time Ribola art master Jackson Hlungwane gave him a lesson in life, and then sold him a superb piece of Venda impressionism.
Completing the route will not only put you in touch with Venda's artists. You will also be able to explore the area's cultural richness, experience its warm hospitality and be amazed by its beautiful landscapes. And if you're lucky enough to find one of the master artists hard at work, you can watch as they chisel away at a hardwood stump, charming art from ironwood until a figure begins to emerge...
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)15 290 2010
Ribola Art Route
Tel: +27 (0)73 263 2755
How to get here
The Ribola Art Route is best accessed from Elim, not far from the town of Makhado.
Best time to visit
Finding itself at South Africa’s northernmost area and bisected by the tropic of Capricorn, visitors to Limpopo can expect sunshine, long summer afternoons and dry days for most of their stay.
Things to do
Birding Soutpansberg and Venda Eco-Tours offer birding and cultural tours along the Soutpansberg mountains and Venda region where there are 540 potential bird species to be seen. Or take a visit to the authentic VhaVenda cultural village.
What to pack
In some parts of Limpopo, there is a risk of contracting malaria. Wear long-sleeved clothing, preferably light coloured, long trousers, and socks in the evenings. And be sure to pack mosquito repellent. If you are planning to visit an endemic malaria area, you might consider taking anti-malaria tablets in advance of your trip.
Where to stay
There are a number of local options, the best of which is the Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge, which has done much to cultivate many of the artists in the area and helped set up the Ribola Art Route.
What to eat
Try mopani worms – considered a delicacy throughout Limpopo. The worms (caterpillars, actually) are harvested from mopani trees and dried, fried or stewed in sauce, usually made from tomatoes and onions. You can buy them at most outdoor markets in the province.