Bushman rock art in the Drakensberg is one of the South Africa’s greatest cultural treasures. Some 40 000 individual Bushman rock paintings have been recorded at 600 different cave and overhang sites in the Drakensberg Mountains between Royal Natal and Bushman’s Neck. Subjects range from animals (mainly eland) to humans, therianthropes to ox-wagons and mounted men with rifles. In Ndedema Gorge 3 900 paintings have been recorded at 17 sites. One of them, Sebaayeni Cave, contains 1 146 individual paintings. In the Cathedral Peak Mdelelelo Wilderness Area there are another 130 sites with a total of over 8 800 individual paintings.
However from a tourism perspective the prime sites include the Main caves in Giant’s Castle Game Reserve, Battle Cave in the Injasuti Valley and Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg Nature Reserve. The rock are at all 3 sites is in superb condition, its easy to get to and a registered bushman rock art guide from the local area is available to guide you. Worth noting is that no person may access any area within 50 meter of a rock art sties unless he/she adheres to the access and control measures instituted by Amafa KwaZulu-Natal which require that you are accompanied by a Amafa registered guide.
Best rock art sites in the Drakensberg
- Main Caves at Giants Castle . The Main Caves is a large sandstone cave containing prehistoric San rock art. This cave is one of the biggest and best preserved painted sites in southern Africa. This cave is an easy 30 minute walk from the camp office and regular guided tours are taken through this unique exhibition from 09h00 to 15h00 daily for a small fee. A visit to Giant’s Castle offers the privilege of entering the world of the San as well as the opportunity to study a varied and exciting range of habitats.
- Game Pass Shelter at Kamberg . The Game Pass Shelter is commonly referred to as the “Rosetta Stone” of southern African rock art, for it was here that archaeologists first uncovered a vital key to understanding the symbolism of San rock art. This site is special for so many reasons. It was one of the first sites ever to be seen by Europeans and appeared in the Scientific American in 1915. It was the first South African rock art site to be known in other parts of the world, and revealed the meaning of San rock art- it, in a sense, “cracked the code”. The trail to Game Pass Shelter is a two-and-a-half, to three hour guided walk, via the spiritually moving Waterfall Shelter. It is nothing short of a world-class experience in Khoisan rock art and living Zulu and San culture.
- Battle Cave at Injasuti . There is a daily guided walk to the Battle Cave, famous for its bushman rock art. There is a spectacular bushman rock art panel depicting a spiritual battle scene. The walk is about 4 hours and starts at the reception office at Injasuti Camp. Bookings required the previous day.
- Fultons Rock at Highmoor . Highmoor Wilderness Area, southern central Drakensberg. This non-descript rock lies just off the contour path below Caracal Cave and could easily be missed except for the rickety old fence which once protected the paintings from vandals. the hike to Fulton Rock takes roughly five hours.
- Moon Godess at Giants Castle . rock art in the Northern & Central Drakensberg is more shamanistic, including mainly hallucinatory motifs, e.g. “ropes to God”, magnificent dream images such as the “Moon Goddess” and the “Sorcerer” of Sorcerer’s Rock. Images of bees, ladders and a butterfly scene (a rare depiction at Eland Cave) seem to be limited to the Northern Drakensberg.
The meaning of the rock art paintings
Although many of the messages in the paintings are shrouded in mystery common themes include the bushman’s close relationship with nature; their prey, of which the Eland features prominently; day to day life, a spiritual dimension, and the passing of history. A good guide or a study of the subject is essential for gaining even a small glimmer of understanding. The paintings can either be monochrome, bi chrome or poly chrome. (single color, two colors or 3 or more colors) Many paintings depict Pherianthrope’s which could be interpreted as men with hunting head gear although it is known that the bushmen had strong spiritual leanings and some are thought to have been painted in a trance like state by Sharman and therefore could depict scenes from the afterlife. Some paintings depict the passing history, as illustrated by wagon and horseman painting in Bamboo Mountain, and others, such as the cattle paintings in Dingaan’s Cave, and Black Ox Cave in the Champagne Valley seem to indicate a liaison with the Nguni tribes as the Bushmen did not keep cattle. Battle scenes and hunting scenes also feature prominently and a visit to Battle Cave in Injasuti can be a chilling reminder of man’s war like nature with it’s bleeding warriors and men folk being restraining form the battle by their womenfolk. Painted panels frequently feature their prey, eland, Vaal Rhiebok, Reedbuck, duiker etc. Cat cave in the Champagne Castle area has a good painting of a Wildebeest, game which are normally associated with the grass plains a fair distance from the mountains, suggesting that they moved far and wide over the area. Two other paintings in this cave are of lions, perhaps in some cases, the hunter became the hunted. Leopard cave in the Didima valley, as the name implies, has a single painting of a leopard in hot pursuit of a man.