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JJust outside Polokwane (formerly called Pietersburg), the capital of Limpopo province, is a showcase of the culture of a sub-group of the Northern Sotho people that revels in a mouthful of a name: the Bakone Malapa Northern Sotho Open-Air Museum, more often simply called ‘the Bakone Malapa Museum’.
In this museum, 2 traditional homesteads house exhibits that explain much of Northern Sotho history.
The name ‘Bakone’ is a Northern Sotho clan name taken from Bakone ba Matlala a’ Thaba, who lived here in the 17th century. ‘Malapa’ is the word for ‘homestead’ in the Northern Sotho language. Archaeological digs show that Ndebele and Shangaan people also lived in the area, and evidence has been found of even earlier Stone Age settlements dating back 20 000 years.
The on-site cultural village offers visitors further insight into the Bakone people. The village has been reconstructed in a style that was typical about 250 years ago. Run by several locals who live in the village, the centre offers a warm and authentic welcome from people happy to share their current, as well as historic, way of life with you.
The organised tour of the Bakone Malapa Museum begins with a visit to an area recreating the modern ways of a Northern Sotho family. Here, within the lapa, you will see the separate, thatched brick-and-mortar bedroom, kitchen and living room. Floors are still made from a mix of mud and cow dung, as they have been for hundreds of years. You will then be given a view of life as it was 250 years ago.
You can expect to learn how fire is made, how beer is brewed and how maize is ground. Handcraft demonstrations such as woodcarving, pottery, basketry and beadwork are popular, and a craft shop sells locally produced crafts at a reasonable price.
Tours are conducted at set times throughout the day. Most guides are skilled in the African tradition of storytelling and will answer all your questions about the cultural aspects of the life of the Northern Sotho people.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Bakone Malapa Museum
Tel: +27 (0)61 457 5172
How to get here
The Bakone Malapa Museum is approximately 9km from Polokwane on the R37 (Burgersfort Road).
Best time to visit
Summer and early autumn (November to April) can get very hot; the rest of the year offers good temperate weather in this part of Limpopo.
Around the area
There’s plenty to see and do in the area, including the Polokwane Game Reserve, Chuene Crocodile Farm, Makapansgat Caves and the Modjadji Rainforest, home of the famous Rain Queen.
Self-drive is best, although several local tour operators visit the museum regularly.
Length of stay
It will take you at least an hour to take in all the open-air museum has to offer, so make it part of a broader exploration of Limpopo.
What to pack
Plenty of sunscreen and a hat are musts, no matter what time of year. If you plan to explore the area, make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes or boots.
Where to stay
Polokwane offers a wide range of options, from backpackers’ hostels to luxury hotels – and just outside the city are numerous game lodges that offer accommodation in a bushveld setting.
You’re in the heart of tropical fruit country: litchis, mangoes, paw-paws and avocados abound, and can often be picked up cheaply from roadside vendors.