When Europeans first discovered the rock art of the San people, or Bushmen, in Southern Africa over 350 years ago they thought it to be as primitive and crude as the people who made it, considered two-dimensional accounts of daily life, fighting and hunting.  However, 20th century scholars have far more respect for the aesthetics of the finely detailed and exquisitely coloured paintings, which they consider to be largely narrative accounts of hunter-gatherer life.

 

After a closer look in recent years, another picture emerged completely, showing that for the San rock paintings were not only representations of life, they were also permanent records of their history.  When shamans painted an eland for instance, they not only paid homage to a sacred animal, they also harnessed its essence, and by putting paint to rock they opened portals to the spiritual world.

 

Scholars now believe that the trance dance serves as the foundation for rock art and offer a record of ages past.  This is a guide to some of the best San rock art sites to be found in South Africa, showing a record of just how prolific as artists these first inhabitants of South Africa really were:

 

Kamberg Rock Art Centre:  This is where the first South African rock art was found and then introduced to the world, the result is that the Ukhalamba-Drakensberg Park is now a world heritage site where San paintings are national monuments protected by law.

 

Didima Gorge Rock Art site:  Situated in the Cathedral Peak area of the Drankensberg Mountains in Kwazulu-Natal, this is a site that has some of the most intriguing and mystical San Bushman rock art in the world.

 

Drankensberg Rock Art:  The Drakensberg mountains in Kwazulu-Natal has the greatest concentration of San Bushman rock art in South Africa, but most of it is in remote but supremely beautiful surroundings well worth the hike!

 

Bushman’s Kloof, Pakhuis Pass, Clanwilliam, Western Cape:   This rock art site, which is part of the Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve, has been declared a National Heritage site because of its spectacular San paintings and because it is part of the Cape Floral region.

 

Gifberg, Western Cape:  The Gifberg rock art site is linked in a vital way to the life of the ancient San Bushmen as this was where they found the poison for what were otherwise puny arrows!

 

San Bushman art is prolific in South Africa and reaches into areas such as the Brandberg Mountains and Twyfelfontein areas in Namibia, and if a Bushman art cultural adventure is what you are after, you will be able to follow in the footsteps of this nomadic hunter-gather culture to your heart’s content!

While in the West men dominate, in little old Africa the San People (Bushmen) have a far more liberated attitude towards their women!  The San govern themselves solely on the basis of group consensus; there is no formal authority or chief to muddy the waters, and while disputes may require very lengthy discussions, everybody gets the opportunity to voice their thoughts, until an agreement is reached, peacefully.

 

The San have a fantastic balance between leisure, hunting and gathering, leisure is important to San of all ages; we can certainly take a leaf out of their book here!  San children have absolutely no social duties; their only duty is to be children and to have fun in their close knit family and extended family circles.

 

Music, sacred dances, joking and conversation are all part of the San way of life and their celebration of their connection to the earth of Africa and its animals; it is a conglomeration of all these components that make up a culture which is entertaining, respectful and soulful.

 

The women in San culture have a high status in their society, they are greatly respected and often take leadership roles in their own family groups, making important family and group decisions as well as being able to claim ownership of water holes and foraging areas.  This is a lot of power in a world overwhelmingly dominated by men, harking back to ancient times when women were leaders and decision makers.

 

Despite the respect and high social status of women in the San culture, they still play a major role in the gathering of fruit, tubers, berries, bush onions and any other plant stuffs that can be put to use by the family. With the importance of water in San life, women also adopt the role of gathering the Ostrich eggs which are used as water containers once emptied, and while San women may be the gatherers, they are also hunters when it is necessary.

 

There is no doubt that the San women are the epitome of a woman who can be a mother, a provider, a negotiator and a hunter!