Gifberg is testimony to the fact that the San Bushmen, who lived a primitive lifestyle, left a remarkable legacy of art. It records not only everyday life of these ancient residents, but also a spiritual bond with animals, preserved by the trances of healers.

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Water once covered these antediluvian plains, where the first forms of life lived and evolved.

The Gifberg rock art site, set in mountains which glower over the Knersvlakte (teeth-grit plain) in the north-western Cape, is linked in a vital way to the life of the ancient San Bushman, as it was here that he found the poison for his otherwise puny arrows.

The Gifberg (Poison Mountain), with the Cedarberg, Bokkeveld and Matsikamma ranges, forms the eastern boundary of the 300km Olifants River Valley, which itself borders Namaqualand and the Atlantic.

Latex from the bulbs of the gifboom, or gifbol (buphane toxicaria poison bush) in the area gave the deadly neurotoxin with which the Bushman tipped his arrows. The little hunters simply jogged along the wounded animal's trail as the Bushman was a master tracker until it fell.

Part of the West Coast Rock Art Route, which explores Bushman art on the West Coast, the Gifberg rock art site is reached by a narrow pass branching off the N7 highway about 15km south of Van Rhynsdorp.

San Bushmen lived throughout Southern Africa for thousands of years, and the ancient hunter-gatherers have left a remarkable legacy of art.

Paintings at this West Coast rock art site show shamans (healers) and animals bleeding from the nose, the healers often bled thus as they went into a 'healing trance', which they regarded as death and a return to life.

They believed the largest and fattest antelope, the eland, provided healing power through the healer in a trance, induced by ritual dance and chanting.

There is accommodation for 30 people in self-catering cottages at Gifberg, hiking trails, and two easily reached sites with fine paintings. These include a healing and bleeding session with cloaked figures.

Massed, bright orange Gifberg Gazanias in spring, and intriguing small animals such as the crag lizard, complete the picture.

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