Several weeks ago, while visiting Knysna for the Knysna Oyster Festival, a tweet from a fellow travel writer led me to Knysna Township and a tour of the Rastafarian community of Judah Square.
I’ve been on many tours all over South Africa but I’ve never taken a tour as interesting — or as hilarious, at least to me — as this one. I’m actually not sure how to describe it and I’ve concluded that the less I say, the better.
To make a long story short, I visited Judah Square as part of a larger tour of Knysna Township with Emzini Tours. I can’t recommend Emzini highly enough. Owners/guides Ella Mahlulo and Penny Mainwaring not only run fascinating tours in a part of Knysna that most tourists (and probably most affluent locals) never see, but are also doing great things in their community.
Knysna Township, which is in the hills above the Knysna waterfront.
Judah Square is a settlement of Rastafarians on the edge of Knysna Township, founded in 1993. Take a look at the Judah Square website — it’s well designed, interesting, and entertaining. Among other things the website includes a comprehensive Rastafari dictionary, which I enjoyed reading. (Incidentally, Rastas have an inordinate number of different terms for female genetalia.)
There are two dozen Rastafarian families living in Judah Square, with their own school and church. Emzini tours dropped us off at the entrance to Judah Square, where we were met by Brother Zebulon.
Brother Zebulon, official guide at Judah Square and also a registered South African Tour Guide, with Knysna Township in the background.
I toured Judah Square for about 30 minutes, along with my friend Lucy and her adorable baby Kai. I know this is a cop-out but I have to admit, yet again, that I didn’t absorb enough of what was said during the tour because I was too busy taking photos. And laughing.
I also realize in hindsight that I probably missed out on a lot of what Brother Zeb said because I wasn’t yet familiar with the Rastafari dictionary.
Portrait of Brother Zebulon, or Brother Zeb, whose real name is Dawie Afrikaaner. (That’s the name printed on his tour guide badge.) Brother Zeb has a very animated, melodious way of speaking. In fact I was so fascinated by the way Brother Zeb spoke that I absorbed very little of what he was actually saying.
Baby Kai was just as fascinated, if not more so, by Brother Zeb as Lucy and I were. Kai was so fascinated, in fact, that he laughed hysterically and joyously flailed his limbs about for the entire length of the tour. I in turn found this hysterical and joyous, as did Lucy and Brother Zeb. On a related note, I asked Brother Zeb how many children he has and he evaded my question.
Did I mention that Brother Zeb is extremely photogenic?
So basically I have many great portraits of Brother Zeb but very little to recount on the actual tour. I also didn’t learn very much about Rastafarianism, although I would like to. I suppose I’ll have to take the tour again the next time I’m in Knysna.
I did write down one Brother Zeb quote that I thought was very profound:
“The color of one’s skin is no different from the color of one’s eyes.”
Brother Zeb with a portrait of Haile Selasie and Menen Asfaw, the Emperor and Empress of Ethiopia.
One more shot of Brother Zeb and his new friends. Note the dreds, which hang past his knees. I think Zeb said he’s been growing his hair since 1994.
On our way out we stopped in a small shop, where I purchased some cheap Rasta bracelets. We met Brother Jabu in the shop.
Brother Jabu next to a large pile of weed, or herb, as the Rastas call it. As I’m sure you all know, Rastafarians smoke marijuana as part of their religion. Brother Jabu is making the “One Love” symbol with his hands.
Someone asked me later if the marijuana next to Brother Jabu was for sale, but I didn’t even think to ask. Lucy did ask Brother Zeb about how the House of Judah gets around the problem of marijuana being illegal in South Africa, but I’m not sure she got a straight answer. Come to think of it, Brother Zeb has a great talent for fielding questions while not exactly answering them.
I really loved my trip to Knysna but in my opinion the town itself is a bit too shiny and clean — almost sterile. By the end of the week I found myself feeling starved for culture. So the Knysna Township tour was a great change of pace for me. I recommend it to any visitor interested in doing something offbeat. Just go with an open mind.
Brother Jabu, a very happy man.
Please note that this post is no way an endorsement for smoking (or not smoking) marijuana.