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Visiting the San Bushman cave paintings at Lapalala...


Game Warden
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One of the great memories of our road trip in South Africa was a visit to some San Bushman cave paintings in the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve. Despite looking ancient, they have been dated as +/- 300 years old, to put that into context, the industrial revolution in the UK and Europe was fast approaching, whilst Dutch, German and French Hugenots were already establishing themselves in the Cape...

 

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Looking down the cliff face to the Palala River.

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It was a steep climb down the San staircase over rocks and through undergrowth.

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A narrow passage wound round and under the cliff face.

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Taking a break en route with our guide.

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@@Bugs inching his way along the path.

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Our guide pointing out the more visible paintings.

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After 300 years the ochres and dyes are fading but a buffalo, sun, giraffe and lion (?) are clearly visible.

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Look carefully and you will see two handprints.

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@@Bugs wonders how the diminuative San would have reached up to make their mark.

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Comparing hand sizes. (Careful not to lay hands actually upon the rock).

An interesting article on San Rock Art can be found here. In this small cave our guide explained how this would have been the place of shamanistic practice - dancing and going into a trance to connect with the animal spirits represented in the stylised paintings. We discussed how the shamans would have ingested certain roots or leaves to produce hallucinatory experiences and how they would have called out to the clouds for rain. In terms of the hand prints, these were done for healing purposes: people would have come to this cave and placed their own hands upon the prints to absorb the positive energies. I found it an incredible place to be and we talked about similar pre Christian practises in Europe: it's believed we all originate from the early San People and despite this example being "recent", how many other proto religions share a similar root, similar shamanistic practises, trance states, connecting to animal spirits and cave paintings. It was a powerful place, with the sound of the river flowing below us, wind rustling the trees, atop the cliffs wildlife freely ranging. I felt this scene had not changed much since the paintings were originally done and I wondered before us, how many people had used the San staircase to be healed in this sacred place?

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One side of the cave area with path leading into it.



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Like the Maasai meat camp, youngsters may have sat on the ground listening to San Elders right here.



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You can see how tight to the cliff face the narrow pathway is, on the otherside, it falls away to the river.



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This tree marks halfway along the path.



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Our guide leads @@Bugs up the staircase.



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Atop the cliff face. Soon after this area was ablaze with the colour of sunset. A magical place...


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Colours of the paintings are quite vibrant. Do you know how old they are @@Game Warden.

 

What a beautiful setting too.

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Just inflling with text now...

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I haven't been back to lapalala since 2003, so this brings back memories of first trip to Africa.

 

Did you stop off in The metropolis of Vaalwater?

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Think we might have done to buy some pies :)

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That looks like a great experience; beautiful art and a breathtaking view. I wonder if they are doing anything to preserve the fading inks.

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Cool. An amazing location for this - I guess a special place for the San. Thank you.

 

And hi @ Good modeling work, sir.

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Thanks for awakening wonderful memories. I spent a long weekend at Lapalala Wilderness School when I was about 14 years old. What a wonderful experience that was. One night we slept in a huge treehouse built in a massive leadwood tree, another we slept around the fire and had a leopard visiting us...

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@@Peter Connan I'll be writing up my visit to the school in due course... this was an introduction of sorts. (Something a bit different to the usual trip report on ST.)

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I must say that the whole experience came together pretty well. You probably don't know that GW is a bit of a early British history nut and a Druid. So we were talking about where the brits came from while driving to the site. All very complicated, but involving the Vandals and the Angels, vikings and Norse etc.

 

We get to these paintings and GW foes into overdrive explaining and mimicking how the san would have been stoned while they did this ceremony. I guess it was quite funny, but captivating, and very educational. They say the paintings were 300 years old, and these San had probably not seen white men yet. What was interesting was that my ancestors had landed in the Cape at the time, and GW's ancestors were experiencing the industrial revolution. These poor San had no idea what was coming their way. But GW paid them respect with his story telling.

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Not quite a druid but reseaching and learning pre Christian nature and pagan proto religions in the UK. Studying schools of Druid teaching etc: hence my great interest in the relevance of this site and customs/practice to other similar ones of a much greater antiquity in the UK, Europe etc.

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Impressive, looks like a difficult climb to get there

 

I have treated nature as sacred for many,many years

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  • 2 months later...

To see these paintings in the same setting as they were created is mystical. I agree that the colors remain so bright and bold. I think I see 3 hands in the paintings.

 

Post #1, photo #2 took me a few seconds to decipher. Odd juxtaposition.

 

Very cool!

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