Rich cultural pageant

2011-01-14 14:08

One of South Africa’s most noteworthy heritage

spots, the Phansi Museum, is located in Roberts House, a beautifully ­restored

Victorian historical ­monument in the leafy Durban suburb of Glenwood.

The museum began as a private collection over 10 years ago by

­artist, writer and avid collector Paul Mikula in the basement of Roberts House

where he worked as an architect.

The house was built in 1898 and was formerly the home of Esther

Roberts, one of South Africa’s ­pioneering female anthropologists. The

independent museum has since expanded to become one of the most spectacular

publicly ­accessible collections of traditional Southern African arts, crafts

and tribal artefacts in the world.

Now filling three floors of the Victorian mansion, the Phansi

­Museum is run and directed by Paul’s son, Max Mikula.

Hostess and curator Phumzile Nkosi, who was working at Roberts

House in the 1990s before the museum began, gives a knowledgeable guided tour

explaining the ­artefacts and their origins.

A visit to the museum is quite literally a walk through rich

­cultures as you literally smell the history and taste traditions.

Stepping into the atrium, with its beautiful stained glass windows

on the ground floor, you pass through the BAT shop, which sells an anthology of

contemporary ­African craft work including rural carvings and basketry,

telephone-wire bowls, ­traditional beadwork, pottery, handcrafted jewellery and

local art; as well as books, postcards and CDs.

The tour takes you up the ­restored wooden staircase leading to the

top floor. The gallery rooms upstairs are divided into two sides.

On the one, you will find an ­extraordinary exhibition of Shangaan

ceremonial items including rare sangoma clothing and ­relics. It’s also home to

a variety of other treasures such as wooden headrests, fertility dolls, medicine

bottles and skilfully beaded and embroidered fabrics and skirts.

On the other half of the top storey is one of the museums most

talked-about exhibits: a display of about thirty life-size marionettes adorned

in colourful ceremonial ­attire from the various regions and cultures of

southern Africa.

The puppets were made by Ludi Novak and curated by Max Mikula, and

are a stunning sight to behold.

From the ground level, a heavy wooden door takes you down a narrow

staircase decorated with telephone-wire bowls into the basement where you will

find an extensive range of outstanding ­examples of beadwork from KZN, Eastern

Cape and the Ndebele people dating back to the 19th?century.

There are also many other priceless treasures to explore in just

about every nook and cranny of the basement including snuff bottles, spoons and

pipes; wood, vinyl and Perspex ear decorations; beautifully carved headrests,

walking sticks, spoons, meat platters and milk pails; as well as customary

­ceramic beer pots.

In addition to all the spectacular things to see, you can relax at

Phansi’s coffee shop, Ikhishi, which serves refreshments, light lunches and good


The museum also hosts regular live music and cultural events,

showcasing original and creative artists and performers.

»? Phansi Museum is open

Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm and weekends by appointment. Entry fees including

tour: R35 adults, R28 children, R22 students.


2889 or 083?450?3270


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