The great thing about living in the Natal Midlands is that we’re in the middle. Just a stone’s throw away from a whole heap of things to do and places to see. Go right and the mountains are only an hour from here, go left and we’ve got the Indian ocean lapping at our feet! And since moving here, I am fast discovering that I need not even travel that far. There is so much right here.
The beauty about the Southern Natal Midlands is that it’s still a little raw. It’s not a polished pearl like it’s cousin…the Midlands Meander. There are many places of interest here that are only known by word of mouth or haven’t yet had their big moment of fame or that are simply off the beaten track. I quite like that; knowing that not everyone ‘knows,’ that there are still places waiting to be found.
There are also those places that are already known and for good reason. But maybe not as well-known as they should be.
This weekend I went the Centocow Mission. There are many missions in the area, grand red brick works of art, nestled in the valleys and high up on hills. A mission was built about every 50 kilometers from the other, an equivalent of a days ride on the Oxen ‘chariots!’
Road tripping from mission to mission is gaining popularity. The obvious attraction is the religious element and its rich Catholic and German Trappist Monk history and culture. For me and for many, it’s the spectacular architecture and the art that you will find inside. Not to forget the road trip; dusty roads that meander through valleys, cutting through a patchwork of green dairy pastures and the homeland hills; studded with pink, blue and yellow traditional abodes.
On these trips, it’s not only the European-styled architecture and the art that whisk you away into another world, it’s the people you meet. The little glimpse into their life that tell you a story. On this particular visit, I met an ex ‘brother,’ but whom still works for the church. It was a good day…Friday it was. And a week of hard labour was about to be awarded with 2 days of rest. When I asked him if I could take his photo, he told me ‘no.’ He told me that he didn’t want everyone to know him. He then told me about the time he went to Wartburg and some random stranger recognised him from a picture he’d seen of him on the internet. This was not good. He didn’t want that experience again!
And so I put my camera away and we talked.
We got chatting about life at the mission and about my blog. I explained to him what I was hoping to post. I asked him if he ever used the internet? He said ‘No, I prefer not to know.’ He said, ‘Look at me, I am happy and I am not stressed. The computer and the TV are a scabenga (thief) of time, without them, my time is my own.’
We chatted about ‘monk-life’and what it used to be like here. He said that these days, he is mostly vegetarian, but back in the day he used to make pork sausages. He pointed in the direction of a grassy field and told me that that was once the location of a productive vineyard. And that unfortunately, he’d been born into the wrong era!
I like an ‘ex’ monk with a sense of humour!
I visited Centacow a number of times this week. I wanted to get the feel of a sunny day, a gloomy day, a church day and a Monday! I met a number of interesting people; the guards of the Bhengu Art Gallery, the ex brother and the Centocow Weavers, all stationed at the Mission. I learned about the artist Bhengu and that in April, the initial church at Centacow Mission will be officially opened as a Museum, displaying some of Bhengu’s famous art. I met the incredible Centocow Weavers, Nontllantlla and Helmina, creating their own works of art in the way of ‘rugs.’ I also discovered that there is unique and stylish self-catering accommodation here, sleeping up to 12 people.
I went home with much more than just a few pictures. I went home with experiences, insight, conversations with interesting people and best of all, plenty of reason to go back!
The Bhengu Art Museum will officially be opening in April 2017. Until then, the gallery can be opened and viewed by ‘prior arrangement.’ Phone the Arts and Culture Department in Pietermaritzburg and speak to Tembeka for more information: +27(0)33 342 3613