Share in The Khoi San Culture
We all know the strife and political unrest which is part of South Africa’s history and sadly forms part of our focus, so much so that we no longer focus on the positive changes in the political arena neither the rich cultural heritage. However, in saying this, we at Discover South Africa, pride ourselves in the fact that we mostly try to focus on the joy of being a South African. I, personally am very proud to be part of a country that despite all that has happened in the past has chosen to stand up as a nation and build on to a positive result. South Africa is the home of various cultures, yet today I would like to stop at The San Culture, a culture rich in spiritual history and also one of the most peaceful cultures in Africa.
The San culture are indigenous people of Southern Africa. The name San is derived from the Khoi word “sonqua” which means “those without cattle”. It is believed that they are the oldest tribes, and according to Academics such as Dr Ben Smith, there is genetic evidence that they are possibly the oldest people in the world, going back perhaps as far as 60,000 years. To the general South African, they are generally known for the Rock Art paintings and not for the fact they have always been very powerful hunters and gatherers with immense respect for the land and the animals. Today I would like to highlight their peaceful existence which marks them as very spiritual people which in turn is strongly depicted in their paintings.
The Khoi San is known to have the longest continuing art tradition in the world and in terms of Archeological findings, they poses seamless stone tool tradition, and a seamless art tradition, going back 27,000 years. Some Rock Art sites have been identified while others are still very closely guarded. I was fortunate to visit one of the sites on a farm close to Clanwilliam that has not been opened to the public yet but only to students from the University of Cape Town in the departments of Archeology, Paleontology and History. The students had recorded the artifacts on site and removed some of them for documentation purposes. However there are many sites that Rock Art may be studied that are open to the public.
The paintings on the rocks depict joy, pain, in a trancelike state of spiritualism. The general features of southern African San art is best explained in terms of concepts that pervade the cognitive systems of San people from all areas. To the San groups the most important ritual is the Great Dance. While they do the Great Dance they reach a spiritual state or trance which the San explain as the harness a kind of spiritual power very much like electricity. When in this occurs, the trance is used to harness a power which is used for healing, hunting, removal of societal tensions and calling the rain. The aspects of this dance is pervasive in San rock art, and is depicted as such because it is part of the process by which San Specialist harness the power of the dance. Rock art images depict aspects of the dance, most often just fragments of the dance rather than entire dance scenes. We see individual or small groups of dancers bending forwards, wearing dancing rattles, holding wildebeest tails or dancing sticks and bleeding from the nose: these are all features particular to the dance. Animals are also prevalent and are not just any animals, they have a special supernatural potency and some animals are depicted more than others such as the Eland. Power lines which are also drawn connecting animals to people show the San drawing power through dance from the animals and dancers are also depicted as taking the features of the powerful animals such as their hooves and heads. We now understand the San art as a deeply spiritual art, one that harnesses and shares with others the power of successive generations of San spiritual experience and enlightenment.
I have mentioned the following places just as a start-off point, but they are only a few and by no means the only places that are available. We hope to be able to at a later stage have a cultural and heritage route available, so look out for that in our newsletters. In the interim visit !kwa ttu San Culture and education centre on R27 close to Darling, and Ratelgat Farm, a Griqua Development Trust, 30km north of Vanrhynsdorp, Bushmanskloof in Clanwilliam, and Sevilla Rock art trail in the Cederberg Mountains. You might also want to vist Die Kunshuis in Clanwilliam , where some of the Rock Art paintings may be viewed.
I urge you to make this part of your holiday trip as you will not be disappointed; it will also be very educational for your children and will assist in cultural awareness of one of the oldest traditions. You will not leave the site without having experienced the spiritual awareness of the San people. I know because it touched me deeply as I am sure it would touch you.
West Coast, Accommodation
- Clanwilliam Lodge
- Rondeberg Resort
- Bergsig 3 Self Catering
- Bulshoekdam Resort
- Yellow Aloe
- Blommenberg Guest House
- Clanwilliam Hotel
- Enjo Nature Farm