Definition of boma in the Oxford dictionary:

Noun – (In eastern and southern Africa) an enclosure, especially for animals.

The roots of the word boma dates back to pre-colonial Africa and lie in the languages spoken in the African Great Lakes and was used to describe an enclosure for livestock, a stockade, a small fort or a government office, normally built out of branches, in the African Great Lakes, Central and Southern Africa.

Since man learnt to control fire, we have had a primal urge to be around a fire. It satisfies our basic needs and provides us with warmth, a means to cook food, light, protection and is mesmerising.  For millennia people would naturally gather around a fire, from Maasai warriors, Zulu tribesmen, Swahili people, Afrikaner Boers to the colonial British troops.

In 1926 Charles Varty and Frank Unger purchased the Sparta farm on which Londolozi stands today, sight unseen. They jumped on a train from Johannesburg and were dropped off along the railway line at sighting 61. Armed with little more than a map and compass, they trekked through the wild bush, in search of an unknown river, wary of prowling lions. As the light faded on the first day, they stopped at a spot on the Sand River where the water ran crystal clear over the granite rocks. This is where the first fire was lit, and this spot is what became known today as the Varty boma.

John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo, based in their boma for the shooting of The Silent Hunter.

For years this spot was a winter retreat for the next generation of Varty and Unger families.  Charles’s son, Boyd, loved the peace of the family bushveld farm so much that he became a frequent visitor with his two sons, Dave and John.

In the 70’s Dave and John constructed a reed fence around the boma, mimicking the structures of the Shangaan people, as protection against the cold winter wind and to keep the warmth from the camp fire in. Each evening after many adventures in the bush, the camp fire would be lit to provide the Varty family with warmth, protection and a vessel for cooking impala sosaties. They would relay their adventures from the day to each other, in the safety of this wild space, under the African skies.

The Final Evening in the Varty Camp Boma

Guitars around the fireside. A regular event in Londolozi’s bomas.

Entertaining our guests in the boma during dinner.

The Muchongolo traditional dancers entertain guests in the Varty Boma.

Entrance to Varty Camp Boma

Looking in through the entrance to Varty Boma, where the fire has burnt for almost 90 years.

Today the Varty boma is surrounded by latte fencing, the fire still burns, and traditions such as impala sosaties, camp fire stories and songs are still upheld. A unique area under the African stars, where special tribal dining experiences are hosted. A design so simple, but so special in that you can’t walk into a New York restaurant and feel at one with nature like you do in an African boma.

Written by Kim Drake 

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

Kim Drake

Wine Curator

“When a winemaker gets the wine right, it is pure joy, like sipping a wonderfully painted artwork from the Louvre.” These are the words of Kim Drake, Londolozi’s Procurement Manager turned part-time Sommelier. Kim’s love of wine first started developing in 2010, shortly ...

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on What is a Boma?

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Awesome blog Kim. Great history! Love the bomas. The best dinners. Amazing atmosphere.


Amazing, maybe one day I too can share in a boma fire.

Wendy Hawkins

Wonderful & I hope it continues for many more 90 years 🙂

Kate Collins

Love this blog Kim, the boma is such a special place to gather and share stories around a fire…

Prashant verma

I am not understand about boma where the boma use


The word “Boma” also an abbreviation for “British officiers mess area”

Benard Pilly

Thanks Mr,,,,I have been dealing with historical background of planning laws and I mate with the word BOMA,,,my teacher want full name of this word …so you saved me

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