I arrived at Durban’s King Shaka airport on a hot and sunny afternoon, fully expecting to check into my hotel and head straight to the beach on the Golden Mile. To my dismay, by the time I settled into my room two hours later, the sky had turned a dark shade of gray, and stayed that way for the next three days. My plans to beach bum and swim in the warm Indian Ocean having been dashed by rainy weather, my next mission was to find an interesting indoor activity. Enter Plan B – the Phansi Museum.
The Phansi Museum opened in 2000, initially located in the basement rooms of Roberts House, a Victorian national monument in Glenwood, Durban. The name ‘Phansi” (which means below in isiZulu and is traditionally known as the realm of the ancestors) was inspired by its location. It has since expanded to three floors and now houses one of the biggest and most spectacular collections of traditional African arts, crafts and artifacts in the world.
Not quite like a traditional museum, all tours are individual and by appointment only. My tour guide, Phumzile Nkosi, escorted me around the museum for an hour and shared information about the history of the various pieces. As a lover of African art, I was completely fascinated and secretly wishing I could have some of the pieces for my personal collection.
The Phansi Museum collection includes Zulu, Xhosa, Shangaan and Ndebele beadwork, telephone-wire baskets, carved wooden meat platters and milk pails, memory cloths, ceramic beer pots, snuff spoons, containers, pipes, walking sticks, and wood carvings, some dating back to the 1800s. The top floor houses the grand finale – 30 life-size marionettes dressed and adorned in full ceremonial attire from various regions and cultures of southern Africa.
If you are in Durban, the Phansi Museum is not to be missed. With an entrance fee of only 40 rand (approximately $3.50 USD at time of writing), it’s one of the best deals in town.