Ghosts in the Attaquas Kloof, a Times Live Travel article by Nick Yell

Article Sourced from TIMES LIVE Mar 30, 2011 | By Nick Yell

MYSTERIOUS: Beautiful rock pools abound on Bonniedale, Nico Hesterman points out some of the interesting features on one of the San rock art sites.

Few people know that the original home of the Attaqua Khoi was the Hemel en Aarde Valley, just outside Hermanus. Details are sketchy, and quite why the Attaqua tribe would have moved to their last known homeland between Mossel Bay and George is also unknown. Perhaps it was simply a case of being ousted by their neighbours.

According to Edmund H Burrows, they were believed to have “inhabited the valley (Hemel en Aarde) for a while in pre-colonial times”.

But, for whatever reason they moved, life was not necessarily easier between the Langeberge and the Outeniquas. In fact, as numerous rock-art sites there suggest, it was bristling with San, which would have given rise to the age-old conflict between the San – roving clans of hunter-gatherers -and the Khoi, who were herders.

“In a representative art sense, we can observe from the three ostrich plumes worn by this figure here, that the person depicted would have been an Attaqua chief, as this was his traditional battledress,” said Nico Hesterman, owner of Bonniedale Holiday Farm on whose property the rock art lies. “Of, course, what isn’t clear is who started the trouble in the first place!”

I marvelled at the ochre tapestry on the wall of the sandstone overhang. A special feature for me was a depiction of a quagga, the extinct ungulate (the last one died in an Amsterdam Zoo in 1883) that was a combination of a zebra’s head and a small horse’s body. Onomatopoeically named by the Khoi because of the call they made, this subspecies of the plains zebra, prized for meat and hides, was eventually hunted to extinction.

In the corner of the small cave, Nico pointed out where the San had blocked an underground burrow with rocks and mortar, so as to prevent the spirit thought to live there from leaving. I learned, too, that a useful way to locate San rock art is to look out for groupings of bitou and camphor bushes interspersed with kiepersol trees. Apparently these three species of flora were used by the San for their healing or hallucinogenic properties and are otherwise unlikely to occur so obviously grouped together in the wild.

The two approaches to interpreting San rock art would appear to be the aesthetic approach (what one sees is an actual depiction of real-life people, fauna, flora and events that took place) and the narrative approach (which contends that a story is being told within the context of the San belief system and those of the trance rituals of their shamans).

With this in mind, Hesterman points to a section of the rock face which depicts a figure with an enlarged penis-like forearm raised skyward and then an upside down “flying figure” beside it. Hesterman believes this to be an evocation of a trance ritual showing an out-of-body experience, the type commonly achieved by shamans during their trance rituals, which David Lewis-Williams describes as performing the following functions for the San:

“For them, trance is the spirit world, and in this dimension they heal the sick, remonstrate with malevolent spirits, go on out-of-body experiences and even confront God.”

As we head off up the old Attaquas Kloof wagon trail – declared a National Monument in 1993 – Hesterman points out another rock art site high up on the mountain. He tells me that there’s a beautiful painting of a whale there, perhaps recording what was seen by the clan on a foraging expedition to the coast. He also informs me that when San clans decided to move, they would ensure that they were able to see their new destination, thus ensuring they could make the journey during daylight hours.

Apparently, the southern San, unlike their Kalahari counterparts, were not wont to be caught in the open at nightfall, where they’d be at the mercy of any evil spirits or roaming predators.

One such “evil spirit” apparently resides in the middle of the Grootkloof on Hesterman’s farm. He first became aware of the phenomenon when on a fence-mending expedition and one of his workers became anxious about going beyond a certain point.

Two years later, the University of Cape Town archaeological department discovered the kloof’s trail went directly over a Khoi grave and Hesterman surmised that the deceased’s spirit was not partial to strangers disturbing its rest. Certainly something the local San could have explained if they were still around. – © Nick Yell

Article sourced from TIMES LIVE Mar 30, 2011 | By Nick Yell

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