When most of us travel, we seek out local artwork, jewelry, clothing and home goods to take home from abroad. But what amounts to extraneous expenses for us, adds up to a livelihood for many of the local artisans creating such crafts, and that’s especially true in Makhado, a small town in the Limpopo province in South Africa.
Officially, 25% of the population of Makhado is unemployed, but according to Shiney Bright, a European transplant who runs her own tourist business in Durban, that figure is closer to 35%. “Twenty-five percent is the number of people who’ve registered. The rest have given up.”
Not all of the rest, however, some have taken their talents to the Ribolla Route. Started in 1995 by local businessmen and youth who came together to try to figure out how to market their talent for the Italian market, the Ribolla Route extends through a number of villages in northern Limpopo where tourists can experience the authentic artist culture of the Vhembe, Mopani, Venda, and Tsonga people, to name a few, and, of course, purchase their crafts.
The entire route can take up to three hours to complete and there’s as much diversity along the stretch as in the whole of South Africa. There you’ll find bead makers, traditional linens, wood carving, iron work, pottery, jewelry, traditional healers, dancers, singers, and musicians.
During my recent visit to South Africa, I visited the route after an hour flight from Johannesburg to Polokwane, the capital of Limpopo. There, my group and I got just a small glimpse of the route’s wonders and were treated to a musical performance by the son of one of the famous local artists and his friends.
We were also shown the artist’s crafts inside his studio, which include beautiful sculptures and fascinating wood work.
We also stopped by the textile shop of a local woman who had fabrics for making clothes and decorating the home. She also showed us a traditional dance of women in her village, rocking her hips rapidly from side to side to accentuate the texture and movement of her skirt. I picked up two pillow cases that perfectly fit my living room decor.
While many suppliers come to the Ribolla Route, purchase crafts, and take them back to their various provinces to resell, there’s something special about experiencing the route for yourself and connecting with the people who create the works you take back into your home. Because the Ribolla Route isn’t one connected stretch of land but rather a community of various villages, it’s best to make arrangements with a local Polokwane tour guide to direct you along the way.
For more information or to contact the Ribolla Tourism Association, click here.