The recently concluded Essence Festival put a spotlight firmly on all things African and provided visitors with a vibrant cultural escape draped in a kaleidoscope of colour! The inaugural festival was hosted in the coastal city of Durban, South Africa last month.
From fabulous African attire, the energetic movements of traditional Zulu dance to the regal headscarf known in South Africa as a doek (an Afrikaans word meaning head wrap), the dhuku (as it is called in Zimbabwe) iqhiya in Xhosa or iduku in Zulu, turban, chitambala (Zambia) – the show of African representation and appreciation spoke volumes about how African culture is appreciated for its relevance, authenticity and rich symbolism.
The doek in particular, struck a chord among revellers, young and old alike. The head covering, has traditionally been worn by married or elderly women as a symbol of their status in society, whilst for others, it’s a sign of respect for various cultural practises and religious beliefs.
While the practise of covering one’s head is not entirely new to women, what differs is how the head wrap has evolved to symbolise certain moments in one’s life and also, to reflect an ideal of how one ought to appear before others: the black wrap is a sign of a period of mourning; for the bad hair day, it hides the knots and messy hair and for the corporate woman, it breaks the conformity of what’s deemed acceptable corporate attire – injecting immediate colour and funkiness into an outfit and an identity of one’s culture.
While once regarded as an accessory worn by elderly or married women, in recent years, and with the reclaiming of one’s cultural heritage, it has now become a must-have staple in every woman’s closet representing and celebrating the strength and pride of women – young and old – all over Africa who are proud of their culture
Similarly, amongst many cultures, the doek seeps in meaning: In Xhosa culture, a married woman wears the iqhiya around her in-laws as a sign of respect. During marriage, the woman will be shown how to wrap it with some preferring it to cover all ones hair and ears.
In the Tswana culture, the ‘tuku’ as it is called, is tied away from the face and knotted at the back. Culture dictates that women choose simple wrap designs that are preferred to the more elaborate as a show of modesty and humility.
“There is so much meaning, richness and beauty in our culture. Our cultural assets, the very things which are inherent to us, are being appreciated far and wide. People travel to experience this intriguing aspect of our way of life and way of being,” says Evelyn Mahlaba, Regional Director for Africa at South African Tourism.
This is supported by research from the UNWTO which shows that in 2015 almost 1.2 billion international tourists travelled the world – a forecast that is expected to grow in years to come. Further, the UNWTO estimates that cultural tourism accounted for around 40% of all international tourist arrivals globally.
A prime example of this, she elaborates, are the various Fashion Weeks held in the country every year as well as other prime events, such as the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Both events are used to showcase African talent in fashion and music and draws thousands of visitors from across the world.
“Attending these events, and many others like them on the continent, is a feast for the eyes for those who walk out of the event halls and into the streets where they meet with locals, experience the destination’s offering and fly back home fulfilled having learnt more about other cultures and found common similarities to their own. The other advantage of course is that the small businesses in the sector have their work supported providing them with much needed financial and profile boost.
“It would be an injustice not to do more to maximise our rich cultural assets and to highlight them at various local events and festivals. These are the very things that keep people coming back and trigger the conversations necessary to break barriers, demonstrate similarities across and amongst our cultures all the while contributing to the coffers of small business owners. You need to come and experience for yourself,” she concludes.
To experience more cultural and heritage attractions in and around Durban, visit the below:
Shakaland Cultural Village
This South African Zulu village offers a comprehensive Zulu experience, from foot-stomping tribal dancing by assegai-wielding warriors in traditional animal skins to consultations with a sangoma (spiritual leader believed to have the ability to communicate with the ancestors) and an inyanga (traditional herbalist).
PheZulu Safari Park
At Phezulu village, the world famous Gasa clan has over the last 30 years, allowed visitors to Phezulu the opportunity to savour the taste and feel the rhythm of Africa. Visitors are taken into traditional beehive shaped thatched huts, where the various artifacts, beliefs and rituals are explained, giving foreigners an insight into the fascinating Zulu culture.
The Zulu dancing show is impressive with the dancers in their traditional garb, showing off their skills with grace, agility and humour- a truly unforgettable experience!