10 May 2012 by Chris Marais

Cederberg rock paintings: the art of altered states

The Cederberg mountain region of the Western Cape was once home to a group of San people who left their precious artwork on the walls of caves and overhangs - we visit some of the Bushmans Kloof sites.

The shaman and his tribe in the Fallen Rock overhang, Cederberg.

There’s an overhang deep in the northern Cederberg, a place called Fallen Rock, that has me absolutely fascinated by San rock art all over again.

It stands on property owned by Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Retreat & Wellness Reserve and the wall at Fallen Rock displays a tableau of activity.

The centre focus, however, lies fully on the ochre painting of a San shaman in a trance, about to enter ‘the other world’. Blood pours from his nose and his spirit seems to be slipping from his body via two thin legs floating from his back. Where is this man heading? Can I come?

I don’t visit the Cederberg as much as I should. That’s what I say every time I come up here and marvel at the rock formations and superb outdoor art of our first people.

Early morning drive to one of the San rock art sites, Bushmans Kloof.

It rained last night, so the air is clear and water lies pooled everywhere. The quality of the light makes photography such a pleasure on the walk up to Fallen Rock.

Today, blokes like me do the long trek from all over the place to stand in spots like Fallen Rock and marvel and speculate on the rituals that took place here.

The Cederberg contains hundreds upon hundreds of caves, overhangs and rock shelters. Researchers say the Cederberg was inhabited more than 30 000 years ago, probably by the ancestors of the /Xam people.

They were part of what we would now call the First People, the San, or the Bushmen. The /Xam (pronounced Tsum) spoke a language similar but distinct from that spoken by the San in the Kalahari.

The /Xam people and language are now extinct, wiped out by massacres and European diseases like smallpox by the early 19th century.

San statuettes on display in the Homestead.

They left few artifacts, and no written history. But they did leave their paintings, a fantastic collection created over thousands of years.

Researchers say the Cederberg was inhabited more than 30 000 years ago, probably by the ancestors of the /Xam people.

As I stand here I remember some words of a San song I read somewhere:

“The day we die, a soft breeze will wipe out our footprints in the sand. When the wind dies down, who will tell the timelessness, that once we walked this way in the dawn of time?”

Bushmans Kloof - nestled in the rocky folds of the Cederberg.

Category: Culture & History

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