Venda People: Everything about their Culture, Language and Food

The root of the Venda people in Africa is traceable to the 9th century during the time of King Shiriyadenga. The tribe has since evolved over the centuries and has migrated into different parts of the black continent of Africa, especially South Africa. The people are known to speak the Tshivenda or Luvenda language which has close links to other African languages like the SeSotho and Shona.

The fact that Venda land was declared a homeland by the imperial masters left their land completely untouched, and thus, the people’s language, customs, and traditions have remained the same to date. The Venda still believe in the powers of their diviners and witch doctors, the people still go through initiation rites to emerge as full-fledged men and women, and their marriage procedures are still practiced the same way as the olden days.

History Of the Venda People

The Venda people’s history dates back to the Kingdom of Mapungubwe during the 9th century when King Shiriyadenga ruled supreme as the foremost king of both Venda and Mapungubwe. History said the people originated from the Congo and East Africa rift, migrating across the Limpopo River. It was during the Bantu expansion in the 9th century that this migration occurred. The kingdom of Mapungubwe spanned from the Soutpansberg towards the south, cutting across the Limpopo River down to Matopos in the north. Mapungubwe experienced a decline in 1240, informing the movement of power to the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom in the north.

The legendary Chief Thoho-ya-Ndou (known as Head of the Elephant) led the initial Venda settlement in the Soutpansberg. He was popular for his royal kraal known as D’zata, the remains of which have since been declared a National Monument. The Mapungubwe Collection is quite legendary – an assortment of artifacts discovered at the archaeological site and presently housed in the Mapungubwe Museum, Pretoria.

Venda shares ancestry with other tribes such as the Kalanga people and the Lobedu people. They also have blood ties with the Shona people and Sotho-Tswana. These tribes were all classified under the Venda Kingdom.

The Venda people were totally untouched by the apartheid South Africa. As South Africa was being ravaged by the apartheid system, the Venda settlement was designated a homeland, thus, the indigenous people were fairly untouched by the socio-political changes that left the rest of the country with a massive effect. The Venda population was allowed to continue living in their verdant, mountainous, and remote region of the country. This is one of the reasons why their rich culture, language, tradition, religion, crafts, and arts have managed to survive so strongly.

Demographical Distribution of the Vhavenda

In 1935, demographic estimate stated that South Africa was home to 160,000 Venda people or thereabouts, with an unspecified number residing outside SA. By 1979 Vendaland’s population was boosted to over 360,000, and there were an estimated 150,000 residing elsewhere. These were later identified to be majorly those who came to the country’s industrial cities in search of greener pastures. Indications from the 1996 census pointed out a total of 758,200 Venda people in SA, but unfortunately, no recent estimation has been made on the number of Vhavenda living outside South Africa.

Venda People Speak Tshivenda or Luvenda Language

Called Tshivenda or Luvenda, the language of the Venda people has its roots in Bantu language. It is interesting to note that it has links with the Congo and Niger languages. There are similarities between the SeSotho vocabulary and the Luvenda language and it equally has some similar elements with the dialects of the Shona people.

Tshivenda makes extensive use of symbolism and metaphors and these elements can also be identified in spoken English of the Venda people. The expression, “I am going to climb the mountain” from a Venda man may have both literal and figurative meanings. If the speaker is speaking figuratively, it then means that he is on his way to see the chief.

It was during the 16th century that the Luvenda or TshiVenda became a distinct dialect. Presently, it is named on the list of official languages of South Africa. There are at least, 650,000 speakers of Luvenda who are residents of the Limpopo Province.

The Mahosi or Vhamusanda is The Custodian of Venda Culture and Tradition

The culture and tradition of the Venda people hinge on the responsibility of their leaders. These royals (traditional rulers and chiefs), who are known as mahosi or vhamusanda in their native Luvenda language, are seen as an embodiment of the people’s culture alongside their children and other descendants. The community expects good morals from them and they must lead by example, upholding the rules of tradition and behavior. A Venda proverb – “mukololo a kola u a nukha”, says that those that lack good morals will have a bad odor.

A scrutiny of the people’s culture shows a blend of characteristics from the cultures of neighboring communities like Sotho, Nguni, Central Africa, as well as East Africa. A good instance is the forbidding of pork which is a common practice along the coast of East Africa. Just like the Sotho, the Venda people practice male circumcision, though, not the Nguni.

Initiation Occurs At Puberty

As the children of the Venda people begin to come of age, they are introduced to the traditional initiation school of the tribe where they imbibe salient values, norms, and morals about the people’s way of life.

Initiation Procedures for the Girl-Child

When a Venda girl attains the age of puberty, the family prepares for her to enroll in the initiation school of the tribe. In ancient times, the adolescent girls usually spent the entire duration for the initiation with the chief (this can last from three months to three years). However, in recent times, the demand of the education system has drastically reduced initiation days for the Venda people. The girls now spend only the weekend at the kraal of the chief.

The initiation school for the girl-child which is known as Vusha and Tshikanda is where the adolescent girls will be thought household chores like cooking, washing, fetching water and firewood, sweeping, and the likes. The act of bathing and keeping a clean home are also taught.

Learning is done through performances of songs, dance, and even playing games. It is at this initiation school that girls learn some crafts and handiwork such as pottery, the makings of baskets, mats, and many more.

Initiation Ceremony for Boys

Murundu, which is the initiation procedure for boys, equally involves a lot of activities. Most remarkable among the rites to be performed here is the male-child circumcision which the Venda People learned from North Sotho.

As the girls are busy learning their household chores, the boys will be taught how to handle livestock, especially cattle. Also, these adolescent boys will be exposed to knowledge about trees; especially the ones that are used in constructing houses and fences. They learn the makings of grain pit and are initiated in animals and birds of the air; this is done so they can hunt.

It is true that the girls’ and boys’ initial initiation ceremony must be separated, however, both sexes come together for the performance of the domba dance which is the final rite

Both Sexes are Entitled to Inheritance in Venda land

In the cultural setting of the Venda people, all landed properties are communally owned under the chief’s trusteeship. However, all the men of the chiefdom are given irrefutable rights to any piece of land he either uses or occupies. Any land used by a man will become his sons’ entitlement, but they can still request fresh allocations.

The inheritance rights for portable property like household utensils, livestock, and agricultural proceeds belong to the oldest son of the family. However, in a polygamous setting, it goes to the senior wife’s oldest son. Upon the death of the father, the oldest son assumes the role of the family patriarch. The only condition under which he can be denied this right is when the person has experienced disgrace in the eye of his family. In this instance, the inheritance right will be bestowed on the next male child in line; this is done like an appointment presided over by the oldest sister of the deceased, but the brothers must give their consent.

Unlike the other African tribes that don’t allow women the right to property, the Venda people allow their female folks to possess property and she is free to dispose of it at will. The property of a Venda woman will be inherited by her youngest son in the case of death. In polygamous homes, a senior wife that died without producing a male child will have her properties inherited by her oldest daughter, though she can never be the family head.

Where neither the man nor woman had a male child, the inheritance for the family head goes to the man’s oldest surviving brother. This practice has one exception that can only occur when a woman marries wife/wives and fails to have a male child through them, then the role of the family head may go to the older daughter. Also, the wife/wives of a deceased man may be inherited by his brothers.

Ceremonies are Periods of Merriment for the Venda People

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The Venda people are known for a lot of ceremonies which are usually accompanied by merrymaking, chanting, singing, and dancing. Some of their popular ceremonies include childbirths, the rites of passage (initiation), marriage, funerals, and the likes. Also, they host ceremonies to ensure good rain, fertility of the land, bountiful harvest, and the general wellbeing of the entire tribe. All these ceremonial occasions involve family

Death and Afterlife (Ancestral Spirit)

Death and the afterlife is one aspect of the African cultural practice that has touched all indigenous tribes. According to the Venda people, any man or woman that passed through the initiation process will transit into the world of the spirits at his or her demise. The highest status in the afterlife is that of the ancestral spirit. The ancestral spirit of the family of someone’s mother is the one that wields the biggest influence in his life.

The Venda tribe perceives the spirit world as a place that exists below, underground, in caves, or even under deep pools of water; Lake Fundudzi is a good instance. According to the people’s myths, a complete village exists underwater and on any dark still night, you may get to catch glimpses of their household fires, their chanting, and dancing, as well as their livestock.

Musangwe Is a Sport For Settling of Scores

Venda people
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The Venda people developed Musangwe as a sport for both entertainment and for men to gain respect from their peers. It is a bare-knuckle fist fighting kind of sport that is quite interesting to watch. Though the governing policies of the tribe did not permit fighting and violence, this sport gives people an opportunity to challenge those who have shown them disrespect.

The rules of Musangwe say that those who have been challenged must fight, otherwise face the consequences of being beaten up by elders or paying a fine. If you emerge a winner in a Musangwe context, the prize will come directly from the chief (kgosi) or the headman (Vhamusanda). There is no time limit for the fight which will only be considered over once one of the contenders concede defeat. There won’t be any medical practitioner on hand to tend to the injured. The only people that are approved to watch and guard against indiscretions like kicking and biting are the elders. People are not allowed to gamble on the outcome and the winner takes home a sense of pride which he deserves for representing his family or clan very well.

Religious Beliefs Among the Venda People

The Venda people are strong believers in the African traditional religion, the worship of a supreme being, the reverence of the ancestral spirit, the powers of the traditional diviners, and more

Raluvhimba Is Believed to be the Controller of the Rain

Vhavenda believes in the spirit of the ancestors and Raluvhimba – a supreme deity which is placed on par with Mwali – the Shona deity. The Venda deity often takes the form of an eagle and appears during the day, soaring at lofty heights. Any shooting star sighted at night is taken to be Raluvhimba embarking on a travel, the people hear his voice when the thunder roars, and his only resting period is when the cloud covers the Tswime mountain.

The chief hears from Raluvhimba only during thunderstorms when he appears in the form of fire that no one can reach and make his demands known. Raluvhimba /Mwali is the controller of rain and the onus is on the chiefs to bring down the rain by making rituals and sacrifices to the supreme deity as well as their tribal ancestral spirit. There are also some witch doctors that specialize in rainmaking

The Role Of The Mungome

For an average Venda person, both good and bad fortune are under the control of his immediate ancestors. In times of trouble, sickness, unexplained death, and the likes, the family consults a mungome (diviner). The mungome divines by throwing his magical divining dice from which he can make a prognosis.

More often than not, the interpretation of the dice will point to the fact that the ancestors need to be appeased and this is usually accomplished through ritual sacrifice. While the royals sacrifice sheep, the commoners will kill a goat on the offended ancestor’s grave.

The Witch Doctor – Nanga

It is the duty of the mungome to discover witches through the use of (a divining bowl, intricately carved with wood). The Venda people believed in witchcraft and kill those who are condemned to be witches. When a mungome does not succeed, the nanga will be consulted and with the special divining skills and magic powers, the nanga can place people under spells. Those with spells placed on them must make efforts to undergo cleansing by the nanga who placed spells on them, otherwise, death may be awaiting.

The Shedding of Human Blood (killing) For Ritual Purpose

Part of the traditions of the Venda people includes the killing of human beings for ritual purposes. The people accept ritual killings when it is deemed to be a way of attaining peace when it is for the overall prosperity of troubled families, and when it is for the prosperity and safety of the clan, community, and the Vhavenda nation. They however frown on ritual sacrifices for personal gain and monetary enrichment.

The Powers of The zwidutwane

Water is a significant theme to the Venda people they have a lot of sacred sites where they go to conjure up the spirit of their ancestors. The zwidutwane is a water spirit believed to reside underneath the waterfalls. The water spirits are believed to be half visible with one eye, one arm, and one leg. While one half of The zwidutwane can be visible, the other half is invisible and lives in the spirit world. The Venda people usually bring offering to the water spirit as it cannot cultivate food underwater. Also, the Venda believe the crocodiles to have poisonous brains, and thus don’t hunt them

The Venda equally believe rivers and lakes to be sacred and the Python God has some level of control over the rains. Lake Fundudzi is counted among the people’s sacred sites which is also where they hold the Domba Python Dance. During the dance, the people pour offerings of beer into the lake. The Domba dance entails young maidens in the final stage of their initiation lining up to dance like a snake. This ritual is crucial in the Venda community as it secures good rains for the next farming season.

Religious Practitioners Among the Venda People

For the Venda people, their major religious practitioners are the nanga and the mungome, and even with the advent of Christianity and the proliferation of churches and ministers of the gospel, the community still visits their traditional diviners for solutions.

The chiefs also have their specific roles to play with respect to their tribal ancestors. The onus is on the family heads to perform ancestral veneration rituals and this can be achieved through the use of their traditional beer to pour libations at the sacred stones. The sacred stones are located at the back end of every homestead and come in the form of elongated, well-polished river pebbles, planted on the ground with luhomo – a bulbous plant,

The Venda Tribe Prepare Their Medicine With Roots, Herbs, Barks, and Many More

The making of medicine among the Venda community involves the use variety of plants; their leaves, roots, barks, and juice are deemed to be medicinal. However, the healers combine them with animal brains, fat, genitals, or entrails. When the medicine men want to make exceptionally powerful medicine, they will replace the animal ingredients with human parts.

While the herbalists work with just plants, the witch doctor is the one that uses all the aforementioned ingredients and more. Even though modern clinics are located in Venda communities, the people still resort to their traditional diviners when they don’t get the desired results from the health facilities.

The Venda People and Crocodiles

There is a special relationship between the Venda people and crocodiles, these dangerous reptiles fill their communities and the people don’t even make attempt to hunt them for food. According to them, the brain of the croc is very poisonous, and thus, cannot be edible.

Venda Traditional Food

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The traditional cuisine of the Venda people is heavily dependent on grains and veggies.

  • Maize remains one of their staple foods; they grind and prepare maize into a porridge. This porridge can be eaten plain, or with meat and stew, or it can be made into pancakes.
  • The key traditional food of the community is called Tshidzimba – a mixture of maize, groundnut, and beans.
  • The tribe consumes a lot of milk often suffused with tart baobab flesh for that distinct flavor. The marula tree’s bark is often consumed by expectant mothers who are of the belief that the tree’s gender can determine the gender of their baby.
  • The marula fruits are deemed healthy and go into the makings of a traditional alcoholic drink of the Venda people. However, the people’s most common fruits are mangoes, avocadoes, apricots, and oranges.
  • Just like so many other South African tribes, the Venda consume a lot of Mopane worms; they can be either dried or cooked and tastes like chicken.
  • Some African communities would have something they forbid and in the case of the Vendaland, it is port and all pig-related products.

Marriage Among the Venda People

The Venda prefer cross-cousin matrimonial unions, but this is not compulsory. Unlike other African tribes where a girl will have her husband chosen for her, the Venda girls have a say in their choice of partners. If the choice of a life partner does not go down well with a young girl, she has the right to break the engagement and the man must equally share his consent for a marriage to take place.

Weddings in the tribe are all about merriment – consuming delicious Venda cultural food, dancing to the tune of the traditional music, and watching the marriage proceedings. Following the ceremony, the new bride will then move into the hut of her mother-in-law who will bear the task of teaching her facts about her new family, her spouse’s likes and dislikes, and more. It is only after she becomes a first-time mother that the wife will be given her own hut.

Marriage Among Venda Royals

In the Venda royal lineage, it is compulsory for mothers to have royal blood ensuring the bloodline of their offspring is not mixed with that of commoners. For instance, any Venda man that is vying for the position of a king or chief must ensure that his mother is eligible.

If his mum is not of the royal bloodline, then, his ambition will be unattainable. Perhaps this is what informs the kind of marriage experienced in the royal bloodline wherein a polygamous family, half-siblings (from the same father but different mothers) are permitted to marry. This way, only the royal blood will be eligible to ascend the throne.

A Woman Can Marry Wife/ Wives

This Venda practice is an unusual form of marriage where a woman who is already the wife of a man can go ahead and marry wife/wives. These categories of women are usually wealthy or they can be head women and the wife they marry will be bearing children from their own husband. The wealthy woman can also hand-pick men who will sire children with her wife.

Even though the Venda people view descent to be unilineal through the male line, the children born from such marriage arrangement metaphorically see the wealthy woman as “father” and if the woman has her own children, they will call her “mother”.

Polygamy Is Mostly Practiced By The Rich 

The Venda communities approve the practice of polygamy where men are allowed to take as many wives as possible depending on the size of their pockets and status in society. The wealthier headmen and chiefs can comfortably cater for multiple wives and a family full of children.

However, the reverse is the case with less affluent commoners who may just end up marrying one wife as dictated by the size of his pocket. With that said, we must also factor in the case of wealthy commoners like businessmen who accumulate enough wealth to marry multiple wives.

Once a Venda man exceeds fifty years of age, he would normally marry a younger wife to cater for him during old age and give him more children.

Domestic Unit

A household among the Venda people comprises of a wife and her children, eating together and sharing a single hearth. In polygamous families, each of the wives is entitled to a house and courtyard, clearly separated from that of her co-wives.

The husband will have his pfamo (sleeping area), sited in an adjacent position to the senior wife’s household, and together, they all make a homestead. The onus is now on the senior wife to maintain order among her co-wives. The man’s relatives will also have their homesteads in the vicinity; this system ensures that children will be able to easily access their uncles and aunts.

Socialization Among The Venda People

Thanks to the kind of domestic family units arrangement of the Venda people, uncles, aunts, grandparents are always on hand to take care of children in the absence of their parents. In turn, the children accord these relatives respect by referring to them as mother and father. At an early age (five years), the children of every household will be introduced to their later roles.

While the boys join their male folks to herd goats, the girls join their mothers, grandmothers (Gugu), and aunts to fetch water, firewood, and cater to the needs of their younger ones. Sufficient playtime will always be available after family chores, corporal punishment is rare.

Venda Traditional Dresses

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The Venda traditional clothes of old were animal processed apparel. People usually get the skin through hunting and skinning animals. Clothes are believed to represent the ancestors who continue to dwell with the living.

Traditional Dress for Children

There is no specific attire for children under the Venda culture, they usually remain naked except for ludede (a string of wild cotton) tied around the baby’s waist until he or she gets to the wearing stage and to be given the tshideka.

The tshideka is a unisex cloth consisting of a shred of square cloth that will be sewn on the child’s old Ludede to cover his or her private parts, but this does not cover the buttocks.

They normally use two squares for covering the back and front, after he is immunized, the infant gets to wear the lukunda (worn around the ankle and waist as protection against the evil spirit. When the child gets to the weaning stage, he will get to wear clothes that differentiate the sexes – Shedo for the girls and Tsindi for the girls.

Venda Culture Attire For Men

For the male folks of Venda communities, they wear a triangular-shaped piece of soft animal skin covering the front and passed in-between the two legs; the overflow will then be tied in a knot at the back. Throughout the man’s life, he will be putting on variations of this garment which is known as tsindi.

In addition to the tsindi, the royals will wear headbands made from animal skin. They will also adorn their shoulders with karos or sila.

Female Dress in Vendaland

For the Venda females, their attires cannot be deemed complete without amulets and beads that are accessories worn around the neck. Wearing an uncompleted attire means risking instant reprisals from the ancestral spirit.

The Shedo

This is the starting clothing for girls and it comes in the form of a small square fabric that is sewn onto a wide strip hanging down on the front side like a small apron.

A Venda Girl Begins To Put On The Nwenda At Puberty

The nwenda is only worn when a girl attends puberty and begins developing breasts; this can be worn above the breasts or at the waist. The nwenda comes with embroidery lines that have meanings in the Venda parlance. A girl that is not yet engaged will indicate her relationship status by wearing an nwenda with a single embroidery. The Minwenda with its multiple lines of embroidery indicates that a girl is already engaged.

Mutate or Anklets

Prior to engagement, girls put on Mutate (grass anklets) but immediately they are spoken for, their intended husband gives them real anklets to show their relationship status.

Mapala Beads Speak About a Girl’s Single Status

Young women who appear wearing mapala beads are advertising their youthfulness, availability, as well as fertility for any interested male. This is comparable to bees and flowers.

The khomba

The khomba is a nubile girl who will continue putting on the shedo, albeit as an undergarment. Unless a Khomba is performing her initiation rite, she will wear an Nwenda tucked above the breast and on the waist

Vhukunda (Bangles and Anklets)

This puts a girl’s engaged status on display

Thaulo is a Birth Towel For Emphasizing the waist

This is a Venda dress that comes in the form of a birth towel. A woman who emphasizes her waist with thaulo is considered to be well dressed. In the present-day Venda, women now display this bath towel at Tshisevhesevhe ceremonies. The husband-to-be of a khomba gifts her with a bath towel as a cover for her face.

The Tshirivha

In a bid to wear only dignified apparel, which demands respect from people, married women often appear in Tshirivha. This is a well-decorated sheep or goat skin-processed garment. The designers usually create small studs out of the goat’s ear and attach them to the shoulder region on the decorated side; they will be acting as the Tshirivha’s eyes.

Phale is Worn by Older Women

Older women among the Venda people who are well past their childbearing age put on a similar garment to the Tshirivha called phale. It is equally goatskin-processed complete with neck and head coverage. The makers of phale stretch it lengthwise as opposed to broad-wise. A well-prepared phale would reach ankle-length.

Music in Vendaland

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For a Tshivenda, music is a very important component of life. The Venda people have different kinds of music tailored to major occasions and events such as worship, joy, sadness, grieving, work, and so on. Most of the tribe’s music is accompanied by drums with the exception of songs that can be murmured. The Tshivenda consider drums to be very important as it infuses their music and dance with a strong and palpable sense of symbolism. Dancing to the rhythm of the drum is considered to be a symbolism of the life changes they have experienced.

After a day well spent in the fields, tilling the soil, herding cattle, harvesting crops, etc, music is the ideal way to relax.

The traditional dance of the Venda people come in a different form – there are some dances that can only be performed by their male folks, the women also their own special dance, so do the adolescent and children.

The Python Dance

Usually, the python dance is where the village chief chooses a wife, and it is conducted at the coming of age ceremony for the females.

As the drum beats are sounded, adolescents of both sexes dance fluidly with body movement comparable to a snake. They each hold onto the arm of the next person to form a long chain as they dance. Once the choice of a wife has been made, it will be followed by a plethora of grooming and courtship rituals that will last for the ensuing few days.

The Tshikona

Traditionally, the tshikona is a male dance where each of the players will have a bamboo-processed pipe (this is a special type bamboo indigenous to the Venda people and grows only in special spots around Thohoyandou and Sibasa (they have ceased to exist). Each player is expected to play just a single note and leave the road clear for the next person to contribute, that way, they build a sweet melody.

The tshikona happens to be a royal band with each chief having his own band. You can withness the tshikona music at occasions such as weddings, funerals, and religious ceremonies.

The Tshigombela

The dance is the exclusive reserve of women (the married ones). It is a festive dance that can be played simultaneously with tshikona.

Tshifhasi

This type of traditional dance is comparable to tshigombela, however, the only difference is that it is performed by khomba (unmarried young girls).

The Mbila

Though still widely played in neighboring Zimbabwe, the Mbila dance is fast going into extinction in South Africa where only very few old people can be seen playing it. Because of the disinterestedness displayed by the younger generation, the Mbila has been listed as one of the endangered traditions of the Venda people.

The playing style of the Mbila in Vendaland is quite different from what is obtainable in other countries like Mozambique or Zimbabwe. In Venda culture, drums are central with symbols and legends linked to them. The chiefs and headsmen undertake the responsibility of keeping the drums which comprise of one thungwa, one ngoma, including 2 or 3 murumba.

There are some drum sets that don’t have the ngoma – this is the type that can be found in the custody of other tribesmen like the doctors that manage circumcision schools for girls. These drums bear personal names and are often played by female folks. The only exception is during possession dances when the men will get to play them.

As a music instrument, the Mbila is comparable to a wood-processed keyboard. The wooden keyboard serves as the resonate while the metal blades (made from huge nails hammered flat) serve as the keys

The Domba

The domba is viewed as a form of pre-marital initiation (this comes last in the life of every Venda boy or girl). It is the duty of the chief to call for a domba and the families then make preparations for their children to attend – the things to prepare include clothes, bangles, and entry fee to be paid to the ruler. In the olden days, the initiation process used to last from three months to three years during which the girls will be staying at the chief’s kraal. However, schooling has reduced the duration to mere weekends.

Also in the Venda of old, the boys and the girls attend this rite of passage together after they have each concluded with their separated initiations – Murundu for boys and Vusha and Tshikanda for girls. However, the coming of the missionaries taught the people that mixing males and females together is immoral. Since then, the domba has only been attended by the girls.

Chacha O
Chacha is a writer with a wealth of experience who has contributed across several channels. Her specialty includes celebrity lifestyle including how top movie stars, musicians, and comedians live their lives.

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