The ‘People of the Pool’ are the custodians of Lake Fundudzi. In the past one had to ask this local family for permission to visit the lake. Once permission was granted, the person had to pay homage to the lake itself. They had to turn their back on the water, bend forward and look at the lake through their legs. This is still a way to show respect for the ancestors who live in the waters. Times change and today there is unrestricted public access, but the ‘People of the Pool’ still use traditional law to guard and conserve the history and culture of the area.
The inland lake system o Lake Fundudzi has three tributaries. One of the rivers, the Mutale River, is home to the giant python god of fertility. A legend tells of a local Venda man who walked into the lake with a heart filled with sorrow after the loss of his true love. He turned into a python and for centuries a young maiden was sacrificed to appease him. Today the young virgins in the community perform the ritual Domba Python dance to honor this god as part of their initiation into womanhood. Sacrificial beer is poured into the lake as thanks to the python god for caring for their crops in the surrounding hills.
The local people know their lake well and can ‘read’ the mood of their ancestors and predict the weather by the color and behavior of the water. It is believed that the ancestors are guarded by a white crocodile, which has not been seen in living memory. As there are still many crocodiles in the lake, people do not wash in its waters.
Locals say that if you throw something into the lake, the ancestors will throw it back. Every morning the banks are filled with objects people have thrown in, but today, most of these items have washed in from the local villages that are situated on the banks of the tributaries that lead to Lake Fundudzi.
Another local legends says that if you look into the lake, you will see people living under the water. Centuries ago a leper was begging in one of the villages. He was refused food and he thus put a curse on the village. The waters rose and the village was submerged. Today you can still see these villagers under the water. There are often reports of singing heard on the banks of the lake. This is believed to be the sound of the buried ancestors who sing and play drums under the water.
Today it is a real challenge to uphold traditions that are so much a part of the Venda culture. The surrounding area often has very low rainfall and so the locals have started farming to survive. The soil is moist and fertile, but this, and deforestation, have led to problems of runoff, erosion and silt build up in the tributaries and the lake itself. Local village women do their laundry in the drinking water that runs into the lake and this has polluted the water and is a risk to life in the whole area. Waterborne diseases such as cholera are on the increase.
Modern life has threatened the very existence of the lake. To save this spiritually rich area, rehabilitation programs and education to raise awareness of the ecosystem have become a priority. The conservation project have also created jobs for the locals in areas of building and education.
But, amidst all this, the gods continue to provide assurance of a positive future for the Venda people and Lake Fundudzi. To ensure the gods are happy, locals and visitors are all encouraged to walk to the edge of Lake Fundudzi and throw a few strands of their hair into the water. This will please the gods and will ensure protection and comfort for centuries to come.