The cradle of the living African culture

Ntombela demonstrating with Shaka's short stabbing spear at Lesedi
Ntombela demonstrating with Shaka's short stabbing spear at Lesedi

Lesedi Cultural Village is situated on the greater location of the Cradle of the Humankind also fittingly called ‘Maropeng’ in Setswana, a World Heritage Site in North West, South Africa.

The village identifies itself as an “African village that is the cradle of the living African culture.”  It boasts of a lodge, restaurant, conference facilities and traditional homesteads from various tribal African groups found in Southern Africa.

As guests in the village we were treated to an African welcome reception that involved ululations, songs and praise poems by men and women in various traditional wear waiting at the second entrance with the writing on the wall saying, “siyanamukela,”  isiZulu for “we welcome you”.

After the loud and colourful welcome there was a video presentation at the Ndebele Theatre introducing the various cultural practices on display at Lesedi.

A very informative activity was the guided village walk showcasing the traditional homes of the Zulu, Basotho, Xhosa, Pedi and Ndebele tribes built on the Lesedi compound.

Our guide was a proud Zulu young man called Xolani Ntombela from KwaZulu Natal.  Clad in Zulu warrior attire made of animal skin revealing his athletic body, Ntombela lectured to us and demystified various mysteries that are found in the African culture.

At times controversial, but always non-apologetic he displayed confidence in the knowledge of the rich heritage of the various African communities in Southern Africa.

At the Basotho village a man wearing their traditional attire of a blanket holding a knobkerrie greeted us with, ‘‘kgotsong (peace).”

The Sotho homestead is conveniently built on the foothill giving it a feel of the mountainous Lesotho Kingdom, our guide explained why Basotho found themselves stuck in the rocky mountains.

According to Ntombeka, the peace-loving Basotho people under the leadership of Moshoeshoe I ran to the mountains during the Mfecane wars and sought refuge in the high areas.

On the mountains, Basotho found measures to adopt a lifestyle for the highlands as we were shown how, for instance their kitchen area was constructed to deal with high winds.  The fireplace had four sections separated by clay blocks each one used depending on the direction of the wind.

Ntombela explained why Basotho do not keep their cattle kraals in the middle of the their homesteads like the Zulus and Xhosas saying it was designed to avoid human loss when the cattle raiders arrived. 

“Basotho knew that most conflicts were about cattle.  So they kept their cattle outside their homesteads so that when come the attackers they could just get the cattle and leave the people.  They didn’t want to fight because they are peaceful people,” said Ntombela.

Common among the various African homesteads at Lesedi is the kgotla area where the men sat to discuss matters affecting their community.  This was like a village parliament.

Ntombela ordered women in our entourage to stand while the men sat on the tree trunks making a horseshoe facing the king’s seat.

Our guide stirred a hornet’s nest when he disclosed that the main reason why women were not allowed in the Kgotla was because they were the worst gossipmongers who would not keep the community’s war plans. 

The women in our entourage refused to accept saying men too are gossipers. Some women condemned the old age practice, saying it was just abuse of women by chauvinist men.

At the Xhosa village, Ntombela explained the etiquette of “ladies  first in and last out” of the hut. He said this was done for the protection of the women.  “A Xhosa man doesn’t want to leave his woman outside lest the enemy snatches her and when going out the man has to come out first to make sure that the coast is clear,” said Ntombela.

He also mentioned that the main reason why women sit on the left in a Xhosa hut behind the door was for their protection.

He said` “The door opens to the left exposing first the men on the right so in attacks they could respond before the enemy could pounce.”

Ntombela also explained that The Zulu and Xhosa kraals are almost located right next to the head of the family’s house because the cattle came before women in the hierarchy of importance.

The narrations at the Xhosa village sparked a debate on who was the most romantic among the Zulu, Basotho, Xhosa and the Pedi men. At the end of the tribal romance debate no tribe was given the crown for its treatment of their women as they all had their fair share of abuse towards the womenfolk.

At the Pedi house we were lectured on how the polygamist man juggled through his number of women. According to Ntombela, the first wife actually issued ‘visas’ to her man if he wished to sleep at the younger wives’ houses.

“The man begged for permission from the first wife if he intends to sleep at wife number three for instance. If she feels she wants him on any given night the younger wives would have to wait for their turn,” said Ntombela to the delight of women who hinted that if it were they, the younger wives would rarely get the man. 

We were also educated on the Pedi’s ‘lekgapho’. The Pedi huts are painted with traditional art called lekgapho that is the mixture of soil and cow dung. Ntombela shared that the reason for lekgapho was for decoration and also worked as a traditional insect repellant and dust control.

Finally, at the Zulu village the heritage was mostly about warfare. Almost everything was inspired by warfare. From the houses and spears and patrolmen guarding the entrance gate. Ntombela oozed with pride about his rather militant tribe, describing that it was all in the legacy of the great Zulu king, Shaka.

The Zulu huts have small entrances that one needs to crouch when entering or leaving them. This, we learnt, was designed to make sure that when the intruder enters the hut with their head down the owner could just chop it off with a spear.

Another reason for the low doors apparently was to force the intruder to show respect by bowing their head to the owner. 

After the Zulu traditional wear presentation we wear taken to the Zulu warfare show. The young Zulu warrior demonstrated King Shaka’s total warfare innovations.

Shaka abolished his father’s long spear that was thrown at the enemy and introduced short stabbing spear, which cracked opponents’ ribs in close combat.

The demonstrator summed the Zulu warfare pride up when he proudly referred to the short stabbing spear as ‘Shaka’s AK47’.

In the evening, guests gathered at The Boma for an evening of song and dance from traditional groups in the various tribes, while waiting for dinner at Nyama Choma restaurant for delicious African cuisines.


Thalefang Charles was a guest of the North West Tourism.

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