Photos An initiate performs the graceful alende dance in front of her ritual mothers. Lake Fundudzi is the home of the sacred python, a symbol of fertility central to female initiation. Phallic-shaped fertility dolls, called Thahu, are traditionally worn by young women of nobility. At the start of the initiation, a female elder carrying a sacred basket called the Mufaro formally exits the ritual house. This elder is followed by a line of female initiates who adopt a posture of humility and subservience. To show humility and subservience, young girls fold their arms across their chests and lower their heads. The initiates are trained by their ritual elders to prostrate themselves in a display of modesty and reserve, called Losha, as a gesture of respect when greeting their husbands, elders, and guests. Venda girls attend the Vhushu, the first initiation school that starts after puberty and lasts for several weeks, during which girls learn about womanhood and the importance of female modesty and reserve. Elder women adorn their wrists and ankles with coiled aluminum wire. Two white conical pendants, called Mapala, resembling satellite dishes and made of starched cotton, are worn at the back of the neck. Elder women wear colorful appliqued cotton skirts, called Minwenda, which are folded and hand stitched. The women’s conical white pendants, called Mapala, are made of starched white cotton. Traditionally they were made from the white bark of the custard apple tree. The ritual mothers arrive at the ceremony in procession carrying the Mufaro, the basket of respect, which contains ceremonial cloths, food for the initiates, and a gift for the host, Chief Ramugando. Linking their arms, ritual mothers form long lines in imitation of the sacred python. The Tshivhambo hut is the ritual centre where the mothers prepare for the arrival of the girls, to whom they will give advice and instruction. Inside the Tshivhambo hut, a ritual mother bows down before the sacred pole, symbolizing the link between the living and ancestral world. A ritual mother prepares porridge to feed to initiates in the Tshivhambo hut. Unlike most traditional African cultures, in Vendaland women are the chief drummers. Here, a woman plays the Ngoma Murumba drum, which is traditionally held between the legs. At right: The mothers dance to the powerful, frenetic rhythms, demonstrating their skills before the initiates. Following their mothers, the initiates then perform individually, demonstrating to the female community the dances learned during their initiation. The powerful lead dancer, Munyai, attended initiation training on the weekends as she was studying at the university during the week. At the climax of the ceremony, initiates perform the great Python Dance called the Domba. They form a long line representing the sacred python, locking their hips together and undulating their bodies in imitation of the movements of the snake. It is believed that each girl has a tiny snake in her body which is awakened by the dance and represents the movement of an infant in the womb. The initiates wear beaded belts over brightly colored front and back aprons, called Shedo. They dance naked to symbolize their fertility and youth. At the Domba ceremony, a chief often chooses his wife.