Drakensberg Bushman Rock Art.
The Ukhahlamba – Drakensberg Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. International recognition was achieved through its unique richness of biological diversity, its endemic and endangered species and its superlative natural beauty. Mostly though, it was declared a World Heritage Site for its masterpieces of human creative genius in the form of some 35 000 Bushman rock art images.
Bushmen survived in the Drakensberg for thousands of years where they lived a simple stone age, hunter-gatherer existence. These small, wiry people lived off the land collecting berries, roots and honey and hunting game, especially the Eland. This antelope, besides providing meat also featured prominently in the Bushman’s religious beliefs – symbolizing all that was good.
To paint, skilled artists among the Bushmen (usually shamans or spiritual leaders) used a combination of charcoal, ochre, blood and lime together with binding agents to render wild game, hunting, battles and trance dance rituals on the walls of their caves.
Tragically, during the early to mid 1800’s these intrepid hunters became the hunted. First by Shaka Zulu expanding his “empire”. Then white settlers, using firearms, quickly depleted the wild game. The Bushmen, to survive, were then forced to hunt cattle belonging to farmers and local African tribes. A bow was no match for the power of the gun. And a civilization that had much to teach us about “sustainability” was systematically and mercilessly destroyed.
Only a few artifacts and 35 000 paintings, slowly weathering away, remain to tell the story of the Bushman.
The Drakensberg has the world’s richest treasure trove of stone age rock art. With artistic skills honed by a tradition of total intimacy with their environment, the Bushmen expressed their life experiences in art painted in the caves and overhangs in the mountains. They are drawings of infinite detail, sensitivity, movement and meaning.
Natural weathering of the exposed softer sandstone layers under the harder basalt created caves in the Drakensberg where Bushmen lived. Many of the paintings were drawn onto the relatively softer sandstone substrata and have deteriorated considerably over the years.
The top three Drakensberg destinations to see Bushman rock painting are: Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg, Main Cave at Giant’s Castle and Battle Cave at Injasuti. KZN Wildlife operates guided tours from all three of these locations daily.
There are literally thousands of other places in the Drakensberg where you can view Bushman paintings. But if you’re looking for destinations other than the “big three” mentioned above, then you’re going to have to get your hiking boots on. Recent legislation has recognized this amazing outdoor art gallery, and that each painting is an irreplaceable treasure. As such they are protected. Please don’t touch.