Open Africa
Open Africa

West Coast Rock Art Route


Features

   Accommodation

Below is a list of accommodation establishments along this route. Bookings and enquiries can be made directly with the establishment.

Bushmans Kloof
Set against a backdrop of spectacular scenery and exquisite indigenous gardens, Bushmans Kloof offers a unique wildernes...

Gifberg
Jansu and Maureen Huisamen have accommodation for up to 30 people in well equipped self-catering cottages. There is a sw...

The Baths
The Baths is a hot springs resort situated approximately 20km south of Citrusdal. There are self-catering flats, cottage...

Oudrif
Bill Mitchell at Oudrif offers splendid accommodation in five en-suite straw bale cottages that use solar power for ligh...

   Environment

Below is a list of environmental attractions on this route. Booking and enquiries can be made directly with the business.

Wupperthal Tourism Association
There are several rock painting sites in the vicinity of Wupperthal and at the information centre in the village a guide...

Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project
This unique project highlights an important part of South African history - that of the San/Bushmen. Tourists and school...

 

Overview
History
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The San (Bushman) rock paintings in the Cederberg, Nardouwsberg, Koue Bokkeveld and Olifants River Valley north of Cape Town are amongst the most accessible in South Africa. There are about 3 000 shallow caves or rock shelters with paintings in the region between South Africa’s West Coast and the mountains east of the Cederberg. The sites on this route together have about 25 rock shelters with hundreds of individual paintings.

Some paintings are within two hours’ drive of Cape Town, but many of the better preserved examples need three to four hours’ drive and an hour or more of hiking. The Cederberg area is rugged and good hiking boots are recommended if you intend visiting places off the beaten track. The best times of year are in the spring and autumn. It is worth taking time to examine the paintings in detail. The longer you look, the more you will see and understand. 

The places included on this route offer a variety of options. Some are open to self-guided day visitors, others only with a guide, and others only if you overnight on the property. Some are free of charge and others require a fee. In all cases it is recommended that you contact the property owner first to obtain directions and relevant information, and to ensure that you will not be disappointed. 

The history of rock art

Archaeological research indicates that the majority of the rock paintings still visible today were done within the last few hundred years, although the painting tradition is probably much older – art excavated in a cave in southern Namibia has been dated to more than 20 000 years ago.

ome of the paintings in the Cederberg were definitely made within the last 400 years because they depict people in European dress with hats and guns, wagons, mules and horses. There is at least one painting of a sailing ship. 

The subject matter of these more recent paintings is different from the older ones in this area. The painting technique is also different – the paint on the older art was applied with a finger rather than with a fine brush. 

The artists who did most of the rock paintings in the Western Cape were the ancestors of the indigenous San hunter-gatherers who lived throughout South Africa for tens of thousands of years before European colonisation

The paintings record their religious experiences and show that the San had a sophisticated belief system and were highly skilled. Not only did they make paint that has lasted thousands of years, but they were also gifted artists who expressed complex conceptual and symbolic thoughts in their paintings.

The animals in the rock paintings were important in San beliefs in much the same way as the lamb is a symbol in Christian beliefs and cattle are important to people of the Hindu faith.

The eland was believed by the San to give them access to supernatural power for healing sick people, making rain and controlling game animals. Other animals also had powerful connotations. In the Western Cape, it is believed that the elephant was connected with rain-making because it was so commonly depicted. 

Supernatural power was obtained by trained medicine people or shamans, who learned how to control it by entering a trance-like state through dancing and singing. Many of the paintings show processions of people dancing, sometimes with cloaks or karosses, sometimes carrying sticks or fly-whisks made from the tails of certain animals. Women are often shown dancing too, or clapping their hands. Bags with tassels may be shown next to the dancers or processions. The bags were used to carry medicine or herbs such as buchu that helped them to enter trance and that could be used to heal the sick. Mood-altering drugs such as dagga (marijuana) were not generally used.

A few paintings show people with animal heads, or animals with human legs. These paintings are multi-layered metaphors. They illustrate the sensation experienced by shamans in trance who feel as if they are becoming the animals that give them supernatural power. Sometimes animals or people are shown bleeding from the nose. This can be induced by hyperventilation during trance and the blood is used for healing. Animals bleed from the nose or mouth when they are dying. Death is the metaphor that shamans use for trance because they feel as though they die and then come alive again.

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A route is a cluster of travel attractions, accommodation, tour operators, local artisans, guides and restaurants. It brings people together from all levels of community to promote travel to their area. You select what interests you on a route and create your own itinerary.

South Africa - Western Cape

South Africa - Western Cape

The San (Bushman) rock paintings in the Cederberg, Nardouwsberg, Koue Bokkeveld and Olifants River Valley north of Cape Town are amongst the most accessible in South Africa. The sites on this route together have about 25 rock shelters with hundreds of individual paintings.

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Key Contacts

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Bill Mitchell

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Tags

heritage coast

 

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