San Rock Art – Drakensberg Treasure

16 years ago the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park was inscribed by UNESCO as one of 33 combined natural and cultural World Heritage Sites for its unique and outstanding natural beauty and its wealth of San rock art. Now known as the Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, this 230 000ha mountain protected area shares much with neighbouring Lesotho.

The ‘Berg, as it is affectionately known in KZN, presents only one face to the viewer seeing it from the from ground level out beyond the foothills. Those intrepid and hardy souls who hike and climb in the mountains, however, see a completely different world of breathtaking peaks, hidden valleys, crags and tumbling streams.

There are only two roads leading deep into the mountains – the Sani Pass in the central Drakensberg that links with a road crossing Lesotho, and the road leading through the Qwa-qwa area in the Free State to the Sentinel car park at the western end of the iconic Amphitheatre in the westernmost Royal Natal section. Even if you are not an avid hiker, by travelling on one of these roads you can get to see some these hidden jewels.

A typical San shelter in the Kamberg area

A typical San shelter in the Kamberg area

The jewels that you cannot see except by hiking to a site, are those examples of San (or Bushman) rock art that are open to the public. The Drakensberg rock art collection is housed in a vast open-air art gallery containing about 40,000 known images in some 500 separate sites. Sadly, many priceless examples have been defaced in some way by visitors over the course of years, and for this reason access to sites is only permitted under escort by an officially recognised and trained Rock art Custodian.

Giant’s castle offers visitors a unique insight to the local rock art at the Main Cave Museum at which guided tours are conducted on the hour throughout the day. In one cave is a reconstruction of a San camp with model figures of San folk going about their daily chores. At another nearby cave wooden platforms and walkways allow visitors to get close to some really lovely paintings. Your guide will explain a great about the San and their way of life.

Exquisitely painted eland are iconic in San art

Exquisitely painted eland are iconic in San art

There are two other rock art centres – one at Didima Resort at Cathedral Peak, and the other at Kamberg. Also at Kamberg is the the famous Game Pass Shelter, the paintings in which provided the key to understanding the symbolism of much rock art. Known as “the Rosetta Stone of rock art” the Game Pass Shelter holds many exquisite paintings. Ethnologists were fortunate in locating Kerec Thusi,.a very old man of the Duma clan in the area. Amongst the Duma clan, ethnologists were startled to find the descendants of local San clans who had been absorbed by the Duma clan and had intermarried with them. So the Drakensberg San, far from having disappeared as was thought, had many of their descendants alive and well living in the area. Kerec was about 100 years old at the time and claimed to understand the meaning of the paintings. He was taken up to Game Pass where he spent the first of many subsequent visits explaining the significance of the art. It was an emotional time for the old man as he had been crippled by Basotho herdsmen as a young man and had not been able to visit the site for over 80 years.

The Didima rock art centre at Cathedral Peak is an amazing venue. It houses displays about the San, their history and their way of life. A fascinating audio visual presentation set in an artificial sandstone shelter transports the visitor back in time. The entire Didima Resort itself is themed on the San and their unique art.

For more information:

http://www.kznwildlife.com/kamberg-rock-art-centre.html
http://www.sarada.co.za/locations/public_rock_art_sites/kwazulu-natal/

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