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November 9, 2012

Experiencing South Africa

Market staff and participating crafters gather under the official banner of the event, decorated with the logo and with Ndebele mural paintings. Photo by Betty J. Belanus

Market staff and participating crafters gather under the official banner of the event, decorated with the logo and with Ndebele mural paintings. Photo by Betty J. Belanus

South Africa has beckoned to me for many years. This beacon was set forth across the seas by Nomvula Mashoai-Cook, my friend and former Smithsonian Folklife Festival researcher and presenter who lives and works there. Ever since she moved back to her native Lesotho and later to South Africa over a decade ago, she has been urging me to visit, to come experience the culture and the work she has been doing with craftswomen across the country, culminating in the annual Mpumalanga Traditional Arts Market (MTAM), which is in its fifth year. Finally heeding the call, I traveled to South Africa from September 23–October 7, 2012, with support from the Smithsonian Research Opportunities Fund. My mission was to assist with the preparations for the MTAM, attend the event and make recommendations for adding more educational activities, and to conduct traditional medicine research to assess the possibility of a South African case study for a future Smithsonian Folklife Festival program.

The experience resulted in the trip of a lifetime, which I report further through the photo essay below. The trip has already generated a set of recommendations for improving the educational features of the MTAM; a children’s activity based on this year’s MTAM; the transcript of an interview with Museum Africa curator Zola Mtshiza; and a set of slides documenting the painting of two Ndebele murals at the Market. With fall intern Emily Knott from Lander University, I am also working on a slide presentation documenting my visit to a traditional herb shop, and other follow up to the preliminary research on South African traditional healing. I am so glad that I finally heeded the call to South Africa, and I sincerely hope I will get to visit there again before long!

Click on images to enlarge and view slideshow. All photos by Betty J. Belanus.

Betty Belanus has worked at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage since 1987. She has curated many Folklife Festival programs including, most recently, Campus and Community (2012), Wales Smithsonian Cymru (2009), and The Roots of Virginia Culture (2007).

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