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Friday, 25 March 2011


The first human inhabitants of the Berg were Bushmen, in fact they were the first human inhabitants of Southern Africa. Bushman are said to have arrived, in Southern Africa, between 6000 - 10000 years ago, having migrated down Africa probably from North Africa. Bushmen, or San people were hunter gathers, still are, the few that remain in the Khalahari Desert, Namibia and Botswana, they didn't plant crops or keep cattle, sheep or goats, nature supplied all their needs. Untill about 1800 they were the only human inhabitants of the Berg.

Life in the Berg must have been as close to paradise for the Bushmen, as it is possible for mortals to achieve here on earth. The well watered Berg valleys teemed with game, wild fruit and other edibles were available in abundance. They knew the animals they hunted intimately and they only hunted for food. The wind and weather had eroded perfect caves in the sandstone which provided them with shelter. Their hunting methods were non-disruptive and humane, animals weren't chased away, and there never were any wounded animals walking around suffering a lingering death. Bushmen were excellent trackers and stalkers, they had to get very close to score a hit with their tiny bows and arrows. 

First the coming of the Bantu people with their cattle, farming, and hunting methods, then  much later the white man with even more disruptive farming and hunting methods, put paid to the Bushman's idyllic life in the Berg. The last Bushman in the Berg, disappeared in the mid 19th century.

All that remains of the bushmen in the Berg is their rock art. In one valley alone, the Ndidima River valley, there are 17 of these natural rock shelters, with more than 4000 separate rock paintings. The Sebayeni cave alone has 1146 rock paintings.  The rock art in South Africa probably exceeds that of the rest of the world put together. 

Bushman art was the epitome of simplicity. to quote from "Barrier of Spears"; "Our art is is obsessed with complicated backgrounds and foregrounds. The bushman artist left all this out, concentrating starkly on one single theme, animated action, or calm repose. "No artist," says Walter Battiss, "has said more, saying less."" An interesting feature of their painting is that they never portray a human face.  

With the coming of Bantu pastoralists, and later white farmers, life became very difficult for the Bushmen. Game became scarce, and the Bushmen took to cattle and sheep stealing. Whites and Blacks turned on the Bushmen with a vengeance. In most of South Africa they were hunted to extinction. 

My grandfather told me of how his grandfather, father, uncles, and neighbours, went on a Bushman hunt in the Cradock district of the Eastern Cape. This was in the 1830's. They tracked a small group of Bushman to a cave in the mountains, more of a rock over-hang, than a cave. The Bushmen were sleeping around a small fire. All the men fired their musel- loaders into the over-hang at the same time. When the smoke cleared all the Busmen were gone, but one small baby boy wrapped in skins was left behind. The baby was taken home  as a pet, people at that time did not think of Bushmen as truly human. This Bushman lived to a ripe old age, and died on my grandfathers farm in the Free State Province in the 1930's  

This unfortunately is not a uniquely South African story, but happened where ever a so-called "superior" race met so-called "inferior races.

Quote: "I'm as old as my disappointments in life, and as young as my naughtiest thought". Xameb the Bushman, to Professor P. J. Schoeman.

The Bushmen left no scars on their environment, only the beauty of their art. What will future generations say about us?

Next post I'll write something of the fauna and flora of the Berg. This post is getting too long.

Source's: "Barrier of Spears. Drama of the Drakensberg". 1973. By R. O. Pearse.
              "Southern Africa: land of beauty and splendour". 1978. By T. V. Bulpin.


Shoreman said...

Reading your posts are like watching the Discovery Channel. Very interesting. Keep them coming.


Joyful said...

I enjoyed this post. I'm sorry though that the Bushmen were killed into extinction. It is so sad that humans don't always see other races as being equally human. My guess is that the Bushmen are South Africa's equivalent to the Native Americans in NA. Some of the tribes have also become extinct or are almost extinct due to dwindling numbers and significant erosion of the culture. Fortunately there are also many tribes who are doing everything possible to preserve their languages, land practices and cultures.

Gaelyn said...

Very interesting. I will have to see some of the rock art next time I visit ZA. Very true, and sad, how the "superior" races treat other humans. The ancient and smaller populations could live on the land gently. Sure hope you find that camera cable soon.

Desiree said...

Phillip, this is an incredibly beautiful and very moving post! You have conveyed so much feeling in your words and the quotes you've chosen are inspired. I am so glad you started your blog! I came, in the beginning, as a 'favour' to Jo, but I've continued coming because of all the wonderful things I'm learning from you.

You should seriously consider having this put into book format or possibly write these up for a local magazine!