I have always been passionate about the different South African cultures for as long as I could remember.
So, when I was invited to experience my first Umthayi Marula Festival in the northern part of uMkhanyakude District in KwaZulu-Natal, I was elated.
The event, which started in 1998, aims to promote tourism and build the economies of South Africa,
eSwatini and Mozambique.
The 9th annual event drew around 20 000 people.
When our group of 15 reached the Emfihlweni Royal Residence within the KwaTembe community, we were greeted with the strong smell of marula in the air. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved velvet t-shirt( I know, bad idea on a day when temperatures soared to 42 degrees), I was like a kid in a candy store eager to learn more about the culture and its people. MEC Zikalala of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs briefed the group on the importance of this festival.
According to him, the event strengthened social cohesion and cultural exchange between the three countries.
Inkosi Mabhudu Tembe said the annual created awareness on Tembe community and the role they played in the cultural landscape of these countries.
“We are Thembe people. Events like this bind us together,” he said.
My experience was quite enriching. I met with the local village women, who sought shade from the blistering sun under the tree near two cows.
Evelina Thembe, who is from the Emfihlini village, attended the festival since its inception. She said the marula fruit had many benefits, including anti-ageing properties.
"I love that we get to meet new people every year who are eager to learn about our culture, the history and the traditions,” she said.
Thembe escorted me to a small patch of garden with buckets of marula fruit, some peeled, others ready to be cleaned. “This is how you clean a marula fruit,” she said, as she removed the fruit effortlessly and separated into the different buckets.
While most of the harvest goes toward making the marula beer, some businesses have created oils, soaps and lotions that is believed to have many health benefits. There is even a jam range. A few minutes later, I found myself with Skapulane, a singing group part of presenting the beer to the king.
The women showcase their singing and dancing to a group of bystanders.
Around 44 villages from the KwaThembe community participate in the festival annually. They usually walk in lines and hold the barrels of beer on their head to the water tank at the end of the property. The beer, served to Tembe and other dignitaries during the official proceedings, signals the start of the festivities. Men in their traditional attire with shields and women in their colourful doeks performed colourful dances.
The atmosphere is electric, and one cannot help but sway to the beat. With the mix of culture, traditional food and music- the Umthayi Marula Festival is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.
* Clinton Moodley was a guest of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal.