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Drakensberg Bushman Rock Art

Bushman Rock Art is most definatly a reason to visit the Drakensberg Mountains. Our recommendation is Game Pass Shelter at Kamberg. The excellent video presentation before the 3 hour guided tour at Kamberg gives a great explaination of the history of the people as well as the rock art at game pass shelter. The rock art at Giants Castle at the main caves is also good and is a very easy walk. The Didima Rock Art Centre at Cathedral Peak offers a great presentation although the paintings are reproductions. All rock art must be viewed with a guide.

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The Drakensberg mountains in Kwa-Zulu-Natal have the greatest concentration of San Bushman rock art in South Africa, much of it in remote, supremely beautiful surroundings. Royal Natal National Park offers an easy walk along the upper reaches of the Tugela River, starting from the park visitors' centreand heading into the Sigubudu Valley, to reach some of the rarest San paintings in Drakensberg. The majestic Cathedral Peak area has a lot of well-preserved paintings in the Ndedema Gorge which are unfortunatly not easily accesible. Among the most accessible Drakensberg rock art sites is the open-air Bushman Cave Museum, in the Giant's Castle Reserve. A short walk takes you to the cave, which features 500 rock paintings, some of which are 800 years old.

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Some of the best Drakensberg Bushman paintings are in remote caves, out of bounds to hikers, and world authorities on rock paintings hold that San Bushman art is the most prolific and strangely sophisticated in the world.

In the Little Berg in the south of the range the Garden Castle area has many of the most famous Bushman caves.  These Drakensberg rock art sites are not mapped, and hikers have to find them on their own. The hotel at Bushman's Nek gives directions to some of the caves, and also has a display of rock art. From the Garden Castle Natal Parks Board office a steepish walk of about 5km takes you to Bushman's Cave.

Sleeping in any of the caves which contain Bushman roack art anywherein the Drakensberg is forbidden.

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The Drakensberg has over 35 000 individual recorded images at over 600 sites making up 35% of all of South Africa's San rock art sites. It was partly the significance of these rock art sites which led to the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park being declared a World Heritage Site in 2000.

It is a great sadness that Bushmen art will not last forever. At least not in situ, where we can stand where the artist stood and feel his world around us. Natural deterioration is quite fast, and already some of the famous paintings are known only from photos or copies made when they were first discovered. Although the pigments used in the paintings are quite strong, and reasonably colour-fast, the rock faces slowly crumble. Missing pieces of paintings attest to this. Nor have the paintings been properly cared for since the departure of the Bushmen. In the early history of the reserve visitors were allowed to camp where they liked, and often built fires near the paintings. Some had the Victorian attitude of scorn towards alien art, especially “primitive” pictures of naked people, and fired shots at the pictures. Others tried to collect the pictures, always unsuccessfully, by chipping them off. The first law protecting the paintings was passed in 1911, but enforcement is difficult. People still scrawl graffiti across them.

A concluding note clarifies our use of the term “Bushman”. For long the usual name, it fell into disrepute as being mildly disparaging, implying a country yokel. San seems appropriately Sanitised, but originates with those Khoikhoi people who are not hunter-gatherers. It actually means “those who own nothing”, and really is an insult. Real Bushmen prefer to be referred to as Bushmen..