Immersing in the culture of a region is key if you wish to learn about the place you are in and have a true understanding of the people and their traditions. Every country has a rich and interesting cultural background; worth taking time to appreciate.
Even though traditional cultures normally have strong historical values, globalisation and western influences have corrupted these lifestyles to a great extent. Money, capitalism, cellphones and TV have affected greatly the planet and people that live here.
In today's world even the Zulu Sangoma (shaman of the famous African tribe - above) has more interest in a Coca-Cola than the spirits that used to whisper answers in her ears. Clearly the western world has left his materialist footprint in this culture.
It is up to you to make sure that you experience cultures in their most honest form. Learn all that you can and spread the values to sustain their way of life. In this blog we will describe 4 encounters we have had with Southern African cultural communities.
1. Zulu and Swazi cultural performances
Tourism entities understand the importance of the traditions of local cultures and the integration thereof. Phe-Zulu and Mantenga cultural village are two examples of this. They are not real interactions, but instead, a theatrical performance set up to entertain and educate tourists. Despite this, it gives a great insight into their outfits, rituals and music and the performers are not just that.
We definitely recommend you do these activities as showing your interest is great for sustainability of the culture in the growing western climate despite the theatrical element. Traditional lives are displayed in a way which would be impossible to experience in any other circumstances - when else would you get to see a Zulu proposal and understand every word?!
However, if beautiful clothes and jewellery, along with great dancing and music is still not enough, then we suggest that you experience the real thing...
Behind the disguises is the true culture.
When you seek a real integration with a culture you will venture into the unknown, as there is no time or place in Google to tell you where to go. You must pack your adventurer attitude and hope for the best; the best experiences happen in the place and time when you least expect it.
In Lesotho, we planned to go hiking into the mountains and found ourselves living with the chiefs of different villages. With basic facilities, no electricity and living as they do, this was not just an insight into their culture, this was a true immersion. Living as a member of a community as opposed to an onlooker, a deeper level of communication is experienced. For more information click here!
2. Adventures with a friend from the Xhosa community
Julius works in Coffee Bay, but he lives with his family in Mapuzi. After an evening of great conversation and laughs, we departed with plans to explore his home the following day.
He showed us his childhood playground, the lost caves of a Xhosa King's armouries and the cliff jumps into the foamy waters of crashing waves which claimed our Sony ActionCam on the first jump! Following the mornings adventures, he invited us to his home for coffee, Xhosa bread and a delicious additional dish called Umngqusho (which is impossible to pronounce!). Xhosa culture is similar to Zulu and Swazi in its arts and language although it has its famous clicks to differentiate!
This is a true cultural experience. It was totally unexpected and these often make for the best experiences!
3. NOT just dreadlocks and marijuana!
There is a very prominent Rastafarian culture in South Africa. Many backpackers will know that tour agencies offer the Rasta experience as an activity. We sought something deeper...
After having driven for hours in search of the Mzinyathi waterfalls and the Rastafarian community living in the caves there, we gave up. Maybe we were not supposed to know. But that evening, 2 hours up the coast in St Lucia, a local craftsman told us of a community living by the butterfly sanctuary down the road. Before he had finished speaking, we had started the engine.
As we sat with a chef from the Rastafarian vegetarian kitchen, 3 devout Rastas emerged from the line of trees within which we were surrounded. Joseph, Dan and Julius rolled out a bamboo mat and the conversation escalated quickly.
We had lists of questions compiled in our minds and they had all of the answers. With strong ethical values and an impressive respect for the world around them, this is a way of life that anyone can resonate with. In practice, they give thanks for every present moment, a mindfulness practice which is sure to help you develop quickly.
Many people view Rastafarian culture with a misunderstanding eye. Although marijuana is an integral part of their culture, it is by no means the main focus. They smoke this plant which has been proven to have several healing properties - a much healthier past time than alcohol and cigarettes!
For those of you who have doubts, It is essentially a branch of Christianity, with the bible as their religious text.
They expected nothing from us and welcomed us with open hearts. Introducing us to the community elders and their children. Rastafarianism is a spiritual practice which welcomes people from ALL walks of life and treats them all with honest equality.
We should mention that 2 days earlier, we were welcomed into the Juma Masjid Mosque in Durban by a very well educated individual. He impressed us with facts and knowledge of Islam, but refused to shake hands with Laura or even touch her. His misogynistic attitude throughout our time in the mosque tainted this experience. In retrospect; how ironic, that the educated man is unable to treat a fellow human with such respect as a community who are self educated.
One thing the Rastas told us which gained our respect was their view on other religions on judgement day. You do not have to be a Rasta or a Christian or follow any religion at all to have the golden gates swung open for you. All you need is a good heart and clean hands.
After speaking in depth about the lineage from Jacob to Haile Selassie I and all the prophets in between, the philosophies by which these people govern their lives shone with an intense luminosity; a light which will remain with us forever.
Cultural transitions are a key element when travelling. By showing an interest, you are supporting the lifestyles and philosophies by which people live.
With the exponential rate of increase of globalisation, we must be responsible travellers. Try to learn a new language (or at least a few words), learn some traditional practices (crafts, art, cooking), and make some new friends. The people you engage with will change you forever.
Head to our lifestyle page where we have some great tips and tools for your personal development. Something for you to share with people from different cultures!