Seraki Blouberg Route
The Seraki Blouberg Route is located at the foothills of the Blouberg Mountain, in the North-western part of South Africa, Limpopo Province. This region is about 95km from Polokwane and covers a large geographic area that stretches right up to the Botswana border. Around the mountain and in the area called ‘Blouberg’, there are about 117 settlements with about 161 322 inhabitants. Economically, Senwabarwana is the capital of this area, and is also where most of the villages do their grocery shopping. The symbol of the baboon (as seen in their logo) represents the time these people lived on the mountain, and some still live there today.
Although Blouberg encapsulates a very large area and with more than 100 villages, they all are in close range of each other. The route stretches through a few of these villages, highlighting interesting projects, natural attractions and an amazing range of cultural heritage and natural treasures. The boundaries are formed by Blouberg Mountain, Makgabeng Mountain, Maleboch Nature Reserve (West) on one side and Blouberg Nature Reserve (East) on the other. The majority of the projects that are included are at the southern foot of the mountain, but the route also includes attractions on top of this majestic mountain, deeply entrenched in the history of its people.
The people who live here are mostly Bahananwa, Batlokwa and a small portion of VhaVhenda groups, with a few minority groups, such as Northern Sotho. The area’s most striking features are its history, natural assets and culture. Its rich history of resistance to the early 19th century Boer colonial incursion and also during the introduction of the Bantustan homeland system in the Apartheid era, has left many traces. The consequences of resistance have shaped Blouberg as it is today, where communities were left behind and neglected with no development of basic infrastructure or attention given to other developmental needs. Today it is one of the least developed regions in the province, with high unemployment and the lowest level of income in the country.
The name ‘Seraki’ Blouberg Route refers to Chief Maleboho whom played a pivotal role in the history of the Bahananwa people and is also representative of the largest group of the area.
History of resistance (Maleboho Seige):
The Maleboho war of 1894, was named after the leader of the Hananwa, Chief Maleboho. It all started with the Boer republic under Paul Kruger. The Boer (white farmers) were in need of good farmland and mines also needed more labour. Thus the Transvaal Republic introduced hut taxes, which would require men to leave to earn money and meant they would end up on the mines for the most part. This also meant that more land would become available.
But Chief Maleboho refused to submit to this and Paul Kruger assembled a conscript army, comprised partly of British, in order to attack.
Maleboho resisted the Boer army for months, so they started using more force. Hananwa cattle were seized, houses burned and grain stores raided, causing Maleboho and his men to flee into the mountains.
When thirst and hunger caused Malebeho to come back down the mountain, he and his lieutenants were imprisoned and the Boers took three Hananwa each for slave labour. When after six years the British prevailed in the Anglo Boer War, Maleboho was recognised for his valiant resistance and he and his men were released and returned to their land.
This story is depicted on the Makgabeng mountain through a rock art mural. The University of Witwatersrand has had researchers analyse the mural, “at one end are chaotic scenes of men on horseback firing from guns. There’s a Boer oxwagon, a scattering of cattle and a baboon, the totem animal of the Hananwa. At the other end is a group of men in a chain gang, the fate of Chief Maleboho and his men.”
During the Apartheid years, yet another group of 'outsiders' took control, when Makgabeng was included in a Bantustan and the chiefs co-opted into the homeland system. Consequently the story of the Maleboho war was covered up for years and lost to many, with few people living around the area knowing much about it.
Today a Chief Maleboho still rules the area, delivering a 97% vote to the ANC (African National Congress), the party that rules nationally in South Africa. Families still live grouped into traditional kraals, with thatched mud huts, arranged in a circle with a central courtyard. These homes are tidy and clean and are decorated with traditional motifs.
(Source: McGregor, L. 2003. 'Liz McGregor@Makgabeng’ in The Guardian. 20 October. Also available online: http://www.theguardian.co.uk/commnet/story,,1066804,00.html).
But do not let this bleak picture be discouraging. Along with this lack of development there is also the beauty of an unspoilt rural area, with people that still live out their culture, communities that still look out for each other and live in general harmony with each other. It is this character that gives the area its strength. This place called ‘Blouberg’ symbolises the 'Africa' that otherwise is lost within the age of globalization, where trends and fashions as well as identity are shaped by brands, movies and media. Visiting projects and attractions on this route, one cannot help but sense the footsteps of the ancestors, the whispers of nature and the vision of a Creator. Villages in utter poverty, but with incredible wealth in natural and cultural assets. The sense of community makes a city dweller feel jealous, as the isolation of the people here is compensated for by their connectivity to each other. Buried in this route is the treasure of history, heritage and a sense of Africa.
The Seraki Blouberg Development Route offers a range of attractions that include unique rock-art paintings, a wide range of fauna and flora, ruins that speak of past turmoils; vibrant cultural experiences, with opportunities for adventures in the form of rock climbing, hiking and exploration in breathtaking natural settings. Projects include agriculture, brick-making, arts and crafts, community development and social awareness. Visitors can buy products, view agricultural initiatives and enjoy the keenness with which the locals are willing to share their experience. What also makes these projects and their products distinctive, is that they are made to be sold locally. Thus they are not tainted by the usual pre-conceived ideas of what tourists would like, but rather carry a distinctive, authentic quality that makes them even more special.
The route’s setting is also uniquely attractive. The mountain itself is very special, not only in its aesthetic presence, but also in terms of its exceptional features. Blouberg Mountain, originally ‘Blauwberg’ was named by the German missionaries and white settlers when they first came into this area. They named it so, because of its hazy blue appearance when viewed from afar. The indigenous people, however, have interesting names that describe different parts of the mountain.
Local names for Blouberg Mountain:
This is the name for the main part of the mountain and can be translated directly as man (mona) without (asena) hair (moriri). This refers to the appearance of this peak of the mountain, where there are no trees and it therefore resembles the head of a bald man.
Thabana ya Lepokisena (near Leipzig mission station):
This is a small piece of mountain that almost stands on its own, and is shaped like a box. The name literally means small mountain that looks like a box.
This part of the mountain can be seen clearly when driving to Blouberg Camp. It is a part that lies in the foreground of the larger part of the Blouberg Mountain. The name refers to its shape that bends or points like an elbow. Setswe being the Sotho word for ‘elbow’.
The mountain used to be one with the Soutpansberg range that lies to the east, but over time the nutrient rich water made the walls of the mountain brittle, causing erosion that separated the two mountains. Interestingly, Blouberg is the largest inselberg (isolated mountain) in South Africa. It also has important vegetation types that are endangered habitats in South Africa, including Grassland and Fynbos, Forest and Wetlands. It is both strange and exciting to find Fynbos on this mountain, since this vegetation type is mostly associated with the Western Cape. The mountain also boasts majestic yellowwood trees and baobabs with fig forests and tamboti forests.
But the mountain is also home to the Bahananwa (also spelled Bahananoa) people, a community that originates from Botswana and moved South to settle here. It is also on this mountain where the wars of resistance against the Boer (a word that means ‘farmer,’ but is commonly used to describe white Afrikaners). Traces of these clashes can still be found on the mountain, with a fort site and even gun shells still lying around.
The Bahananwa people:
The Bahananoas (or Bahanwa’s) are a tribal branch of the Sotho people. Sotho are said to be one of the ancient ethnic tribal groups or nations indigenous to Africa. They are also identified as part of the Bapedi, or ‘Pedi’ people, which are a large segment of the Sothos.
The tribe’s original name is Hananoa or Hananwa. Added to this are the letters ‘Ba’, which stands for people, in other words ‘Ba-Hananwa’ means people of Hananwa.
The Ba-Hananwa identify with the Pedi, or Northern Sothos, rather than the Southern and Western Sothos. According to records, the Hananwa originally came from Botswana.
The story as told by the local people:
An old Chief of the Batswana tribe (in Botswana) decided that it was time to hand over his Chiefdom to his son. Now the Chief had many wives, but one of them he loved more than the others. This favoured wife had borne him a son, and it was this son who was next in power.
According to the locals a dispute came about as a result of interaction with ladies from a different tribe. The Batswana people apparently were not familiar with sorghum, from which a porridge was made, and ate mainly meat that they gained from hunting. One day, a group of ladies from another tribe wanted to trade some of their sorghum for meat, but the Chief refused to take the sorghum, so the exchange did not take place.
The women were upset and left crying. On their way back, they passed the favourite wife’s son. The son saw that they were upset and asked them what was wrong. They told him what had happened, and along with those that were with him, he took the women home and offered them meat for supper. The ladies noticed that no sorghum was prepared to serve with the meat and realized that their hosts did not have the knowledge of sorghum porridge. So they showed the son and those present how to make porridge from sorghum.
When the Chief found out about this, he was angered that the boy had gone against his will and wanted to kill him for his disobedience. The son (Leboho) instinctively fled with a few of the people. They knew that if they crossed the river, they would be safe, but would never be allowed back. After crossing the river, the Chief called to them, but they refused to return. Consequently, they were called the 'refused' people – Ba-Hananwa.
They fled to Makgabeng and stayed here for a while, but later went on to live in Blouberg Mountain. After the son died, a women woman was the only one who was next in line to take over the Chiefdom. She was called ‘Ma’- Lebogo/Leboho (Mother hand). Since then, the lineage became ‘Maleboho’. It was during the reign of this woman, Matsiokwane, that the Bahanwa chiefdom split into two groups. The main branch under Kgoši (Chief) Malebogo, whom occupied the eastern side of Blouberg Mountain, while the other section occupied the western side, under Ramatho Kibi Lebogo.
The Ba-Hananwa’s symbol or totem became that of baboons (Tšhwene), after their closeness to the baboons on the mountain.
But there are also remnants of a peaceful existence on this mountain. The Chief’s kraal can be visited with permission from the present Chief of Maleboho. There are two different sites, one baring older ruins of a kraal and another that was more established and has been well looked after. Even today, it still serves a purpose as a meeting place for the Chief and his advisors.
Other interesting sites on the mountain include rock-art paintings, which are quite small and not well protected, but worth a visit even just for the beautiful walk on the way there. There is also a small footprint fossilized in a piece of rock. No one is sure where this comes from and no research has been done on it.
From a scenic point of view, hiking up the mountain and staying at camp on the mountain provides a chance to re-connect with nature. Surrounded by the sounds of birds and baboons, the only reminders of humans are the sound of cattle bells and perhaps a song in the distance of women gathering wood or fetching water. On top of the mountain there are streams, pools and waterfalls, with intricate rock features. Here and there large pieces of rock that have broken off the mountain are positioned as if an artist has been decorating the face of the mountain with sculptures. The rocks have traces of where water trickled down and are proof of the nutrient quality of the water that separated Blouberg Mountain from the Soutpansberg mountain range.
The hike up the mountain is delightful and even the unfit could make it, with frequent base stops in between. For those looking for more of a challenge, the mountain offers amazing rock-climbing spots, with claims that this mountain has the longest rock-climbing face in South Africa.
What makes this route distinctive is not only the mountain and its amazing features, but also the people and their culture. The people of Blouberg live mostly in poverty, but strangely enough seem more content than most in modern day’s rat-race. As explained earlier, the villages include different cultures, but at no time does one experience a sense of disparity. Some communities still live on the mountain and have very little contact with the modern world, apart from going down once or twice a month to stock up on basic necessities.
Different influences from Bahanwa, Pedi, Venda and Tsonga are visible and mostly expressed in the way people dress. As a sign of respect it is always good try and learn as much as possible about the language and the customs of the people we interact with when travelling.
When greeting it is good manners to sit down or lower yourself. Children clap their hands to the rhythm of the greeting, while older persons just put their hands together.
A women greets others with the word ‘Realotšha’ (Hello)
The other person then replies with Thobela or Realotšha and asks, Le Kae? (How are you?), to which the reply is Rhôna, Legai? (Well and how are you?).
A man uses the word ‘Thobela’ as Hello.
Good morning – le Tsogile Bjang
Good day – lêhiwele Bjan
Good Bye – Salang Ga Botse
See you again – ke tla le bona gape
It is also important to consult the chief of a community before visiting a specific village, as this is not only respectful, but the chief will also make sure that visitors are protected.
Apart from living culture, the route also offers cultural heritage attractions that are tell-tale signs of the history that shaped Blouberg. The German missionaries had a settlement near the mountain, the Leipzig Mission Station. Influences of the German missionaries stretch throughout the area, and in Senwabarwana (previously known as Bochum).
Traces of the German missionaries:
Leipzig Mission Station:
This station was established by German missionaries and Christoph Sontagg was stationed here. The church is still used today and is a beautiful building, near the house where Christoph Sontagg used to live. It is located at the western foot of the Blouberg Mountain and is still used by the incumbent reverend.
Graves of Cristoph Sontagg’s wife and also of a Franz family are found in the garden of the main house. The impact that the missionaries had on the lives of the local people are still greatly visible.
Helen Franz was a missionary who had an extremely visible impact. At the economic centre of the area, Senwabarwana (previously known as Bochum), it is worthwhile to visit the Helen Franz Hospital for example. Near the hospital are remains of a church that was also named after her. Not too far from this church, a second church can be found.
Apparently, the second church was used by those who were ill. From the description given by the locals, it seemed that the illness this refers to was leprosy. The dam where these ill people were washed can also still be pointed out by the local people.
What is interesting is that the name Bochum given to the economic centre, was changed to Senwabarwana. This new name means ‘where the bushmen found water’. And apparently this is also where the missionaries settled and did their work, near the water.
Near Blouberg Camp, locals can guide visitors to what they call ‘the original Bochum’ or Senwabarwana. This is where the Germans originally settled, before moving to the current Bochum (known as Senwabarwana). Eerily, there are buildings that represent a postal office, a home or a business centre, left near the mountain as if no one ever lived there.
Apart from Blouberg Mountain, visitors will notice in the distance a mountain range that resembles Cape Town’s Table Mountain. This is the Makgabeng Plateau. This plateau carries some of the most significant archaeological traces of history in this area. Over 600 rock-art sites are said to be found , including drawings from the San, and quite extra-ordinary drawings of indigenous black African groups. These drawings reveal glimpses of long lost eras, freezing moments in time and sharing messages of war, hope, and everyday living. Various studies have been done on these sites and the painting of a white camel has been a very interesting and rare discovery.
The White Camel of Makgabeng:
The camel is one image in a panel of paintings, all interpreted as paintings executed in the manner of depiction that are true to the Northern Sotho rock painters of South Africa. The site is located in a ravine near the centre of the remote hill area called the Makgabeng. This area is uninhabited today, but it served as a place of refuge to many Northern Sotho who were dispossessed of their land by the early colonial settlers of the area.
The paintings are estimated to be from the first decade of the twentieth century or even earlier. The Makgabeng interior was still ‘unexplored territory’ to white colonists at that time and therefore, the paintings have to be analysed in the context of traditional Northern Sotho rock art practices.
Since it is out of place to the area, the depiction of the camel has caused many investigations, questions and research... The painting dates back to the days of the first introduction of camels to southern Africa, and very few people actually saw these animals, which makes it especially extraordinary to find this painting in Makgabeng.
The Northern Sotho rock art differs from the Busmen art in more than one way. It is not as fine and detailed as the Bushmen, as it is finger painted. The proportions are also different from those of the creatures depicted. Northern Sotho did not focus so much on all the body features when painting an animal, but rather placed emphasis on the characteristics that are perceived to be ‘key’ to the subject species. These parts were therefore normally exaggerated, whereas other features are standardized or even left out.
In the painting of the camel the hump is grossly exaggerated, which, according to the normal characteristics of the Northern Sotho rock-art, therefore identifies this animal. Other strange features introduced to this art includes steam trains, soldiers, settlers and guns. These new images were painted by those who took refuge in Makgebeng during the aftermath of the Maleboho war in 1894. The paintings were therefore shaped by the artists’ context.
Research into the issue of why the camel was painted came to the conclusion that this was possibly to illustrate the inappropriateness of the new intruders ie, these animals were as out of place as were the white people. White men are usually painted as thick set and in an exaggerated, aggressive posture, their hands on their hips. White women wore short skirts, which were seen as disrespectful in the Northern Sotho culture. They were therefore painted in skirts of exaggerated short length.
These paintings are extremely interesting and definitely worth visiting.
Please note, that as of yet (2007) these sites have not been enclosed or protected from visitors or even made easily accessible. Respect their value at all times, looking without touching or disturbing, and it is advisable to rather visit them with a guide. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, take some water along (as it does get very hot in this part South Africa) and take into consideration that visiting some sites requires walking long distances.
*Source: Smith, B.W. and Van Schalkwyk, J.A. 2002. ‘The White Camel of Makgabeng’ in Journal of African History, 43, pp 235-254, and can be found in full text on the internet.
When travelling this route it is advisable to make use of a local guide, either by contacting Blouberg Tourism Association (Patrick Morata) or through the African Ivory Route (Blouberg Camp). Projects are not that easy to locate without a GPS, and using a guide who can act as an interpreter adds value to visits. A 4x4 or a bakkie (light truck) is recommended, or a vehicle that is not too low on the ground and stable on dirt roads. In the rainy season (summer) it is almost always better to make use of a bakkie or 4x4, as the roads are not always accessible by car.
It is also very important to remember to go with an open mind, to try and absorb as much as possible and to enjoy the beauty of the people and the place!
Suggested Reading List
Verhale van Hananwa, Franz, G.H. (An Afrikaans Book)
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