#TravelTuesday: The Ribola Art Route

Holding Image: Performers from the Makuleke community use dance, drama and song to present the story of how their tribe.
Holding Image: Performers from the Makuleke community use dance, drama and song to present the story of how their tribe.
Image: Gideon Mendel/Corbis via Getty Images

The Ribola Art Route keeps popping whenever Limpopo tourism is mentioned. It is a curated experience of artists, crafters and musicians showcasing their talent, as well as their roots, as Limpopo is home to the Tsonga, Venda and Shangaan cultures.

Named after the Ribola Mountain, the art route is part of the Open Africa network, which works with small businesses to develop rural tourism. It describes the route as the “rhythmical heartbeat” of Limpopo, allowing tourists to partake in “authentic, immersive experiences”.

These experiences differ, depending on which route you choose – the Shangani Green Route, the Xibelani Blue Route and Red Road Route. However, it is possible to mix stops from the different routes.

Be warned: if your idea of a route is an easy, marked path that you can do in a day max, you will be disappointed. The route covers a vast part of the Mbhokota area and a vehicle is a must if you want to see many of the stops. Driving from Polokwane to Mbhokota takes over an hour but you can stay close to Mbhokota village at places such as the H12 Leshiba Wilderness or Nahakwe Lodge. The roads can be tricky to navigate and GPS might not be your friend, as signal is poor, and you could find yourself in the middle of a mielie field somewhere.

Patrick Manyike
Patrick Manyike
Image: Supplied

According to Patrick Manyike, whose Home Gallery is the second stop on the Shangani Green Route, the ancestors are angry with the people of Mbhokota, which is why there hasn’t been much rainfall in the area recently. His spiritual perspective was constantly present as he spoke about life in the village and his sculptures.

He said each piece of wood had a story to tell before it was carved and it was his duty to simply remove what was not important and leave behind the sculpture that was always waiting within. Manyike challenges visitors to guess what could be carved out of the pieces of wood in his yard.

“This was the wood. It was not living before but now it is living,” he explains as he shows the shape of a python about to eat an animal in a piece of wood.

He is passionate about his work. He says he would rather stay in Mbhokota, and make an income from the use of his hands and mind, than to go back to the bright lights of Johannesburg and be a labourer. Although he sells some of his work at prices reaching R18 000, he lives and works in a humble mud house, which he hopes to turn into a gallery.

A young man playing the marimba
A young man playing the marimba
Image: Supplied

Many of the artists are making a living from their work. One of them is Pilato Bulala, on the Xibelani Blue Route, who fashions cars, jewellery and sculptures out of scrap metal. He encourages guests to leave behind their soft drink cans to be recycled into artworks or jewellery.

Vhutsila Art School, on the same route, is both a music school and an art gallery. There are amazing handcrafted wooden benches, lovingly placed under trees, where guests can sit to take in performances.

A stop at Twananani Textiles, on the Shangani Green Route, is a must for shopaholics. They sell beautiful, unique handpainted prints, skirts, dresses and head scarves. There are also sandals and even xibelani skirts in different sizes. If you don’t have the money to buy your own xibelani, the women at Twananani Textiles are willing to dress you up so you can finally live out your dreams of dancing in a xibelani.

Even if you are only able to visit a few stops on the route, it is well worth the drive. From the hospitable hosts to the beautiful work showcased, the Ribola Art Route allows you to take pride in South African culture and artistry. It is a love letter to the vibrant culture of Limpopo and its contribution to our nation’s arts.

- Contact Lisa Martus on +27 82 200 4596 or lisa@travellingcircus.co.za if you would like to organise a guided tour of the Ribola Art Route.

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