San rock art

San rock art

It is well known that the Drakensberg Mountains contains the largest concentration of rock art in South Africa with between 25,000 and 40,000 paintings at about 550 sites. It is also known that there are many sites which are, although some are privately known, not recorded and as such officially unknown. The author and his team, whilst on a field trip in Nov 2008, found four previously unknown sites. It is totally in the realm of possibility that there remain many sites in the Drakensberg which are still unknown. In addition to this, San Rock Art is the most well known of all the rock art in Southern Africa, “with some sources saying that it is amongst the most famous rock art in the world” From these paintings one can see and learn much about how the San people lived, how they hunted, the clothes they wore, their religious beliefs and practices, their weapons and even historical events. (Some paintings even show Boers (European Settlers) on horseback and armed.

The paintings, which can be broadly categorised into three main groups, (Animals, Humans and historical incidents) give the feeling, from a layman’s perspective, that they are mere depictions of everyday life, however the art very often represents the San peoples religious believes and practices. These include many examples of shaman (medicine men/women) in various trance dance postures. It is now believed that these shaman would use these trance dances to harness supernatural power to enter the spirit world and perform important tasks such as healing the sick, controlling the weather, controlling the movement of game and visiting far away places. San Rock Art said to be depicting a scene from a ‘Rain Dance’ The Drakensberg mountains was probably never an ideal place of permanent habitation by humans and was most likely used on a seasonal basis by hunter gatherers passing through, or as a place of refuge (there are many places where one could hide), and it is possible that it was used more often by the shamans because of the solitude it offers, much like the places that the monks of Europe used in older times (isolated hill tops, lonely islands on lakes etc). It has been said that these sites were to the shaman of the Bushmen like the cathedrals in the capitals of Europe.

The local shaman (not bushmen) of today still visit these sites for spiritual purposes and it is known that they scratch off some of the paint and use it to give power to the medicinal potions that they use today.

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