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Words and Images Love Limpopo

His resonant voice and compassionate eyes see through the artifice and draw you closer.  ‘I see you’, his heart whispers.  Artist, herbalist healer, counsellor and cultural leader, David Murathi connects deeply to his culture… the traditions, the myths, the symbols of the ancients weaving their way through his modern community. 

David was guided on his life-journey by his ancestors, who made him aware of his calling through an illness which led him to his own cure using medicinal plants.  This brought him full circle back to the teachings of his grandfather, Nkhwamatumba Murathi, a renowned herbalist, who took the young David into the bush every day, giving him the hands-on experience of plants such as ashwagandha or winter cherry, whose leaves are used to treat ailments from high blood pressure to arthritis and the bark is recommended for patients who are HIV-positive. 

 Shamanism is the practice of interacting with the spirit world of the ancestors through an altered state of consciousness, to guide the healing process of those suffering from a disease of the body or mind.  While the diviner or sangoma uses oracles like bones or shells to receive guidance for their patients and the seer receives messages from dreams, intuition and insights, the herbalist relies on the mystical healing powers of plants.  Throughout history men and women with these powers of insight and connection have played a central role within their communities to heal the sick and communicate important messages or guidance. 

The rolling hills of Elim in northern Limpopo and the myths surrounding the spiritual space of Mount Ribola were home to Jackson Hlungwani, one of South Africa’s most renowned sculptors: A preacher, healer and visionary and the father of the Ribola Art Route.  Jackson Hlungwani’s work is infused with a unique mixture of traditional Tsonga and Shangaan myths and symbology as well as his deep Christian faith practised at his charismatic church, New Jerusalem, in Mbhokota village.  African Shamanism provides a connection between the ancestors and afterlife which can integrate with the teachings of the Bible to provide a moral compass and healing to those in need. 

David Murathi’s home-consultation room and art gallery lies near New Jerusalem – high above Mashau village – and is a peaceful haven in the company of his numerous sculpture-personas. David learned the art of wood carving from his uncle, Churchill Madzivhandila and began to use the wood in his local surroundings. Here a figure hewn from bushwillow stretches towards fresh air high in the blue skies and away from the threat of Covid lurking behind.  Eyes turned towards the heavens, the person carved from black ivory wood prays for the pandemic to end.   A woman, her skin a shining yellowwood, bows her head respectfully and offers a pot of traditional beer to an unseen husband or uncle.  Another bends into the rhythm of the Domba Dance, becoming the ribs of the python as her leadwood carved feet carry her forward.

David’s sculptures beckon you to their side to tell their story, to pass on the secrets, to enrich your understanding of the deep and ancient cultural rhythms of Venda, but they also fulfil a healing role for those who connect with them.  And, just as the wood reveals its own story as David peels away the layers, what his patients need is slowly perceived and resolved with the necessary treatment.

Olive tree leaves, for example, can be used to treat kidney complaints and other ailments; there are even medicinal plants which can be used in some circumstances when people are struggling with their breath.  The leaves of the mudedede or lavender tree can be boiled and the steam used to open up the lungs while those of the paperbark tree can be placed on hot coals and inhaled to ease the symptoms of colds, flu and bronchitis.  David has cultivated a herbalist garden with a wide variety of common and scarce indigenous medicinal plants and his whole family, including his four-year-old child, knows the right remedies when they feel a common ailment coming on.

 While David has been providing relief for people with complaints ranging from diabetes to STDs, with more serious cases, he would rather prepare an immune booster for his patients and offer them counselling and guidance before referring them to the hospital for treatment.  Sometimes he will dream about a particular medicinal plant and is guided to find it before a patient even makes an appointment, so that the cure is on hand when they arrive and David has learned to trust these messages implicitly.

 But in these challenging times of a global pandemic, themes of depression and despair are a constant narrative through our daily lives.  His evocative sculpture, aptly called ‘Protect Yourself’, depicts a crippled woman wearing a mask, arms outstretched, praying to heaven for intervention because there seems to be no solution to the corona virus. And, reflecting his own struggle for survival, David Murathi explores the loss of the simple happiness of life in a woman skillfully captured in bridelia micrantha, creating nuances of emotion through her two-toned torso and emotive face.  She thinks about killing herself, but David Murathi, in his other role as counsellor, urges people to get help and advice when all hope is lost, because, when you choose to take your own life, there is no turning back.  David says: “From morning until night, if I can’t work, I feel like I am sick.  We don’t have food, we don’t have money but I’m still working.”

David takes the responsibility of his calling seriously and it is reassuring to put your path to wellness in his healing hands.  Organisations like the Traditional Healers Council have been trying for years to legitimise practices such as herbalism in the same way as western medicine and David Murathi hopes that, at some point in the future, doctors and traditional practitioners can work together to help bridge the gap between them and bring healing to our world.

Travelling along dusty roads and sleeping under a blanket of a million stars, the tales written in the landscapes of Limpopo are matched only by the stories etched on the faces of those you meet along the way. Love Limpopo specialises in immersive cultural and nature experiences with amazing local people… a unique journey for responsible travellers. 
Love Limpopo is not just a Destination Marketing Platform though …. it is a Movement… a way to connect the threads of our ecosystem; inspire change and become better global citizens.  

Join the Love Limpopo Ecosystem: [email protected] /   www.lovelimpopo.com  

Love Limpopo

We love connecting with you. It means you are part of our ecosystem. You have been pulled closer by the ancient pulse of Limpopo and have fallen in love…Love Limpopo is the story of a province… an innovative online platform, inspiring new ways of connection to the most incredible province in South Africa.

The Ribola art route in Mbokota, near Elim, Limpopo, personifies the African spirit; a melting pot of Tsonga, Venda and Shangaan cultures. Find out more about Davids work: www.ribolaartroute.com/

We would like to congratulate our article contributors Love Limpopo/Travelling Circus on winning three prestigious awards at the International Tourism Film Festival Awards (ITFFA). Selected from the 865 entries from 95 countries the three Gold awards, included: ‘A Brave New World / Ribola Art Route’.
“We hope that our films will continue to pay tribute to the dreamers and the doers whom we meet on our journeys” said Lisa Martus of Love Limpopo.

Love Limpopo