Dzata –  1700-1760 AD (possibly partly dating back to the 15th century)

(Off the R523 about 50 km northeast of Louis Trichardt/Makhado, on the way to Thohoyandou)

Dzata is the former ancient capital of Venda, and a spiritual home to its people. Today a visibly modest collection of stone foundations and walls, Dzata was once home to the Singo, a ‘strain’ of the VhaVenda who migrated down from Central Africa through what is now Zimbabwe and settled there on Mount Lwandali. A twisted oral history, quite hard to unravel, tells the stories of two legendary kings who once ruled there: Dimbanyika and his son Thohoyandou.

AIR cultural guide Nelson Mphaha tells us the stories one day, seated under the knobthorn tree in the kraal that once served as Dzata’s traditional court. Some sources cite Hwami as Dzata’s first king, but Nelson starts with perhaps its second, more famous, one.

“King Dimbanyika went hunting one day up on the mountain. His dogs chased a dassie into a cave, and the king followed them in. A huge rock fell and closed them in the cave. One dog was left outside and returned to the village, and brought the villagers back to the king inside the cave. It became his grave. People moved down here, from Dzata I to Dzata II, to escape the bad magic.”

Before he died, the story goes, Dimbanyika instructed that the son of Rambwapenga and his descendants must stay on Mount Lwandali to tend his grave and be the mountain’s guardians. Lwandali became known as ‘Tshiendeulu’, or ‘royal graveyard’, and Rambwapenga’s descendants became known as the Netshiendeulu, or owners/custodians of Tshiendeulu. Till this day the descendants of Dimbanyika are not allowed to face the Netshiendeulu, as protection against the latter’s supernatural powers. According to tradition, when Khosi Netshiendeulu goes to Dzanani village to meet with the Mphephu-Ramabulana King, the two must stand with their backs to each other with a wall separating them, without ever looking at each other.

Dimbanyika’s eldest son, Phophi, succeeded him as King and became known as Thohoyandou – ‘head of the elephant’.  Thohoyandou forged a united Venda under his rule from Dzata. But his rule ended mysteriously in the late 1700s; some say that he was assassinated. Venda split apart from that point, dispersing into various chiefdoms.

The Dzata Museum on site, though small and poorly lit in parts, is well worth a visit to explain more of the former capital’s mysteries.

Ngoma Lungundo (Drum of the Dead)

There’s a replica of this famous drum inside the Dzata Museum, meant to strike terror into enemies’ hearts, some say with power equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant. Ngoma Lungundo, Drum of the Dead, was said to be used by the Singo King to protect his people against attack; it was always to be elevated. The drum’s power – and Singo hegemony south of the Limpopo – vanished when the drum accidentally touched the ground due to infighting between Thohoyandou and his brothers. It is said that the ancestors, including the Venda god Nwali, abandoned the Singo royalty at this stage. Some believe, though, that at the Mashovela Rock Pool in the Morning Sun Nature Reserve, the drum can still be heard echoing off the cliffs.