Khoja’s Modern Store, the Origin of Venda’s Colorful Stripes | iinfo TZANEEN

Khoja’s Modern Store is a cultural institution in Louis Trichardt. This fabric shop and general dealer has been passed down through multiple generations and is the place to go in northern Limpopo to buy traditional Venda and Tsonga/Shangaan fabrics. And not only does Khoja’s sell traditional Venda fabric — the eye-catching, boldly colored cloth with thick, colorful stripes — the shop also played a role in creating it. 
 
Up until the mid-20th century Venda women used animal skin and leather, as well as white fabric sewn with black stripes, to make their clothes. But in 1945, Khoja’s shop-owner Baboo Ghelani began working with Venda women to design their signature colorful striped cloth. The cotton cloth is made in several different colours — bright pink, green, purple, yellow, blue, orange, and red — crossed with bars of multi-colored stripes. Originally the fabric was designed in Louis Trichardt and printed in England but today the fabric is printed in India and the far East. 
 
The fabric is used to make the traditional “shedo” skirts that Venda girls wear. The shedo is an apron-like garment — one square in the front and another square in the back — worn around the hips, covering the pubic area and buttocks. Venda girls wear shedos during the iconic Domba (python) dance, during which young maidens line up and dance in the fluid movement of a snake to ask the ancestors for good rains the following season.  
 
Older women also wear “nwendas” — shawls that tie around the waist or just above the breasts — made from Venda cloth. And of course, now the boldly striped fabric has gone mainstream, working its way into modern wedding gowns, men’s suits, and a variety of other contemporary fashion pieces.
 
Today Khoja’s Modern Store is run by Baboo’s grandson, Vishal, and on any given morning the shop is buzzing with locals and tourists. The walls are lined floor-to-ceiling with a kaleidoscope of folded cloth, including the Venda cloth and Tsonga cloth, with its near-fluorescent hues decorated with equally bright yet delicate floral patterns. Vishal and his staff members are extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. Tourists are welcome to try on Venda and Tsonga skirts and practice their dance moves.  
 
In addition to fabric Khoja’s also sells shoes, hats, blankets, towels, yarn, ribbons, and other haberdashery. Under the glass counters are spools of colored glass beads for use in Venda and Tsonga art. Plastic beads are also on offer. 
 
Across the road is another shop, Khoja’s Fabric World, with more modern (i.e. non-traditional) fabrics and clothes for sale. It’s ironic that the “modern” Khoja’s shop is actually the less modern of the two.
 
Khojas Modern Store is at 54 Main Street, Eltivillas, Louis Trichardt. Opening hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturday. (Closed on Sunday.) Call 015-516-1301 for more information.

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