Bushman rock art in the Drakensberg

Bushman rock art in the Drakensberg

The Bushmen who are also referred to as the San people are the oldest living group of peoples who populated most of Southern Africa. The Bushman or San were Stone Age people who practiced a hunter gathering existence and had probably been in the area from the time of the Middle Stone Age (200,000 to 30,000 years ago). “The first conclusive evidence for San presence in the Park dates back to almost 8,000 years ago, although circumstantial evidence suggests that the San inhabited parts of these mountains at least 20,000 years ago.” Although the San (very few in number) are still in existence in the inhospitable (desert/very dry) regions of Namibia and Botswana, the San people that inhabited the Drakensberg mountains are long gone, with the last reported sightings in the Little Berg being in about 1890.

The history of the San in the Drakensberg was only documented from the time that the European settlers arrived in the area, in the early 19th century. By this time the African cattle herding people had already been in the area for many centuries, having gradually migrated from Central Africa. These two peoples appear to have existed side by side in a somewhat harmonious way. However the rise of Zulu military power (in 1816), and the consequent expansion of their influence and control of the general area, caused massive displacement of all the peoples of the region. Shortly thereafter the arrival of the European settlers, seeking out new land, added to this general displacement and in turn changed the relative harmony that had existed for many generations and eventually brought about the extinction of the San in this region.

The story of their extinction is certainly a very sad period of South African history. By about 1840 the European settlers in the area, with their habit of hunting for sport, started to deplete the stocks of game in the areas used by the Bushmen for hunting (for food and resources), this meant that the Bushmen found themselves with little option but to rustle Settlers and African herders cattle, horses and sheep. Of course this was not a new phenomenon, as it has been recorded that this had been going on with the African herders for a long time, but now as there were more herders and settlers occupying the land this meant that the Bushmen became more and more desperate for food and resources. The period between 1840 and 1870 was a truly turbulent time for all the peoples of the region with the continuous rustling activities of the Bushmen.5 The new provincial administration’s inability to satisfactorily solve the problem and the policy of shooting Bushmen (almost on sight) eventually led to the extermination of the Bushmen from the region. All that is now left behind of these peaceful people, they were never known as a warlike people, who lived in harmony with nature are their paintings. “G W Stow, a 19th century ‘explorer’ to whom we owe much of our present knowledge of these people, recorded that a ‘Bushmen’ who was shot dead in the Maluti mountains in about 1866 was probably one of the last of the San artists. He was carrying a belt to which were attached ten antelope horns, each filled with a different pigment – perhaps his equivalent of an artist’s palette

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