South African village tops ecotourism pops

The Shangana Cultural Village has secured second spot in the 2005 Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s Green List, which recognises the best in ecotourism around the world.

Shangana is a cluster of traditional villages midway between the Blyde River Canyon and the southern Kruger National Park, where residents invite guests to share in the way of life of the Shangaan people. (Image: Shangana)

Brand South Africa Reporter

The Shangana Cultural Village in the South African province of Mpumalanga has secured second spot in the 2005 Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s Green List, which recognises the best in ecotourism around the world.

Announcing the win in the magazine’s September 2005 issue, Conde Nast gave Shangana a score of 79%. This put it in second place after Bunaken National Marine Park in Indonesia, which scored 83%, and ahead of the 68% scored by the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

The winners were selected for their preservation of the environment, contribution to local culture and the quality of the guest experience.

“Tours and feasts with the chief at this model village introduce visitors to the Shangaan way of life, complementing the natural attractions of the nearby Kruger National Park and Panorama Route,” Conde Nast reported. The village scored 68% for nature preservation, 82% for guest experience and 88% for local contribution.

Owned by the Mapulana community, the venture has created over 200 jobs in an area which once had an unemployment rate of 80%.

Shangana is a cluster of traditional villages midway between the Blyde River Canyon and the southern Kruger National Park, where residents invite guests to share in the way of life of the Shangaan people. The villages are set in the shade of ancient trees in a reserve of forest and grassland, and are open every day.

An African market village forms the centre of Shangana, where local craftspeople make and trade their craft. From here, trained guides lead guests down to villages on daytime tours, midday tours with lunch, and a magnificent evening festival at the chief’s kraal.

Marula Market

The Marula Market has been described by many visitors as the most beautiful in Africa. A wide circle of huts looks down towards the Kruger Park, with trees all around. It is the central village at Shangana.

The market is a gathering place for the region’s craftspeople, offering a variety of traditional handcrafted art. Many of the artists work at home in nearby villages and leave their work at the market to be sold, making Marula an important source of income for the people of the area.

In the centre of the market are clay and stone pieces, including carvings, statues and pots, and an oven used for firing clay work. The surrounding huts house the work of different crafters.

Daytime tours

During the day, small groups are led from the Marula Market through the bush and past fields, where a trained guide shows how the Shangaan people collect food from their environment, and explains a little about traditional farming. The route leads up to a village, the home of a Shangaan headman, his wives and children.

In the village, the guide explains different facets of the Shangaan way of life, including their history and customs, initiation ceremonies, the practice of polygamy, the outfits and weapons of masocho (warriors), the construction of homes, ornate beadwork clothing, and food preparation. Guests are encouraged to touch, feel and participate, while the guide explains the etiquette necessary to ensure the privacy of the family.

Guests then visit the kraal of the sangoma, a registered member of the Traditional Healers Association, who explains different medicines – and may throw his bones on request.

Over lunchtime, a full traditional meal is served in the village with the family. The wives of the chief wash the hands of the guests, and pots of food are brought from the fire and served. Guests are given portions of each item they choose on a carved wooden plate, and eat with an elegantly crafted wooden spoon.

Evening festival

As the sun sets over the mountains, guests are led through the bush towards the kraal of Chief Soshangana. As they approach, beating drums and warriors usher them through a passage of stone towers and flaming torches to the fire-lit circle of royal huts under the trees.

During the evening festival choirs, actors and dancers tell the story of the Shangaan people. During the show, traditional beer and great wooden trays with local delicacies are passed around.

Halfway through the show, the wives of the chief invite guests to divide into small groups to share a traditional feast in their houses with them.

After this, guests return for the second half, which tells the more modern story of the Shangaans, and at the end guests are led out through a tunnel of singing choristers.

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See Using Brand South Africa material.