Ancient people of the Baviaanskloof

Artefacts from rock shelters indicate that our early ancestors were occupying the Baviaanskloof from at least the Middle Stone Age (100 000 to 30 000 years ago). During the period between 60 000 and    20 000 years ago, there was presumably little human inhabitation in the area. After that, during the Late Stone Age, human populations became established in a series of phases.

The San people were hunter-gatherers, and occupied the area until the Khoi-khoi (aka Khoe-Khoen) people arrived 2000 years ago. The San people are also considered to have been the direct descendants of the early humans. The Khoi-khoi people were herders, and migrated to the south with their sheep and cattle, and later mixed with the San to form the group of people we call the Khoisan.

There must be an approximate 2 000 rock paintings in Baviaanskloof, if not more. The preservation of these is of utmost importance, and unduly destruction or removal of paintings and artefacts should be prevented at all costs. Permits to remove artefacts are mostly only issued to professional archaeologists. It forms part of our irreplaceable cultural heritage.

Rock paintings fade with time. Research has concluded that water seepage through the rock is the main agency of destruction. In the few millimetres behind the rock surface the minerals and salts are concentrated and these are deposited on the paintings when the moisture evaporates. Besides depositing minerals and salts on paintings, the water dissolves the cementing medium of the rock. As a result the depictions become more faded and will eventually disappear completely.

The Khoisan people’s culture was passed on through stories. Knowledge was passed over from old to young generations in tales told around the fire at night. Animals played a central role in Khoisan stories and they were closely linked with plant and animal life. What follows below is a description of some of the animals that were portrayed in Khoisan stories that occur in Baviaanskloof, and how they fitted together to explain the process of life. The information was collected all over southern Africa in old bushman caves by archaeologists and ethnographers. It is useful to remember that, contrary to what popular belief might suggest, paintings are not just a narrative to explain what the Bushmen ate or hunted. Rather, trance (medicine dances, clapping etc.), formed a central part of the Bushmen religion, and paintings mostly depict things that were revealed to them during trance. Medicine songs were sung while dancing to generate the state of excitement which was conducive to the medicine men of the band going into trance, and absorbed the ills of the band into their bodies for subsequent discharge. The medicine songs were taught to people in dreams by the spirits of the dead, and they played an important role in relieving the tensions and jealousies that built up in a small group of people who lived so closely together. 

Characters in Bushmen folklore consisted of:

Kaggen: Chief character, with the personality of a trickster. Often depicted as a mantis.

Kauru: The dassie. Wife of Kaggen.

Cagn: Character that appears in some of the stories.

Coti: Wife of Cagn

Heiseb: Character that appears in some of the stories.

Kwammang-A: Nephew of Kaggen. Seen in the rainbow. Serious personality.

Porcupine: Wife of Kwammang-a. Daughter of All-devourer. Adopted daughter of Kaggen.

Blue Crane: Elder sister of Kaggen. Mother of Kwammang-a.

Ichneumon: Son of Porcupine and Kwammang-a. Grandson of Kaggen. Serious personality just like his father.

All-devourer: Father of porcupine but objectionable personality whom she could not live with. Possessor of a huge appetite for both meat and ‘bushes’.

Cogaz: Son of Cagn

Gzwi: Second son of Cagn.         

Quancicutshaa: Legendary Bushman “chief”.

Aardvark: The aardvark was depicted in a painting on the face of a cliff at Gomokurira, some fifty kilometres away from Harare. Other locations include the Manemba Shelter (Zimbabwe), Markwe (Zimbabwe), Cathedral Peak (Drakensberg), Underberg, Aliwal North, Leribe (Lesotho) and East Griqualand. In one of the paintings, the aardvark is depicted where it lies slain in the vicinity of bulbs, tubers and digging sticks. Hence, it contributed as a food source for them that ensured a good supply of fat. The aardvark is also present in a myth that tells of how she raised a baby springbok, and how the lynx stole her daughter when she was at a marriageable age. When the aardvark and the lynx met, they cursed each other and condemned each other to everlasting nocturnal activities.

Ants: Children collected “Bushman rice” (ant larvae) under trees. This was mostly considered a women’s job. 

Baboon: Baboon paintings have been recorded in various caves of Lesotho, Kimberley, Klipfontein (Orange Free State), Klerksdorp, Maclear and Dondrecht (Eastern Cape) and 27 sites in Zimbabwe. The general gist of the folklore relevant to baboons is that similarities between baboons and people are noted but that the baboons is attributed a particular sensitivity to ridicule. One story relates how they attacked a man who compared their foreheads to overhanging cliffs. Another describes how they stoned a young woman whom they suspected of deriding their tails when she complained of the crookedness of her digging stick. The folklore credits the baboons with watching the Bushmen playing their games and listening to their singing. They were then reputed to imitate the Bushmen and to sing like the women. The Bushmen, on the other hand, did a baboon dance in which the performers imitated all the actions and droll grimaces of rivalling baboons. 

“What we don’t understand, we fear; and what we fear, we destroy” Karen Saks 2004.  

The Chacma baboons in Baviaanskloof (Papio ursinus) gave rise to the Baviaanskloof’s name (a “baviaan” means “baboon” in Dutch). Baboons are a critical aspect in the overall ecology of the Baviaanskloof, due to the fact that they are one of the most important agents in seed dispersal. When they eat seed they carry it in their faeces and drop it in another place. The endemic tree, Smellophylum capensis, which only occurs in the Baviaanskloof region, has small berries approximately 1 cm in diameter. Baboons love to eat these berries, and help to maintain the genetic heterogeneity of this endemic species. The same phenomenon occurs in some fynbos species, which sometimes rely solely on baboons for seed dispersal since other large herbivores that used to disperse seed with their trampling actions are not there anymore.

There has been considerable human-baboon conflict in the past due to a baboon that kills a lamb, or troops that feed in the fields and destroys crops and vegetables. This can carry significant economic consequences for a farmer, who can lose thousands of rands from the damage. One solution that has been used in the past was to kill the Alpha male. Killing the Alpha (dominant) male does not solve the baboon problem. It's a bit like shooting the President. Absolute anarchy takes place without leadership, and this can lead to a "baby-boom" six months later. This would not only exacerbate the co-existence problems between man and baboon, but will also result in a weakening in the gene pool as siblings mate with one another. When a new Alpha male enters the troop, it would most probably kill all the infants. This phenomenon is termed “infanticide”, and he would do this because he seeks to remove all the gene pool from the previous Alpha male.

People in the Overberg Municipality (Kogelberg Bioshere Reserve, Pringle Bay, Hermanus, Betty’s Bay area) have had considerable problems with baboons. Baboons would forage on dump sites, go into houses and take food, or enter shops whose doors are open where there is food on display. This caused great havoc amongst the inhabitants of these towns. People would respond by shooting the troop, poisoning them, setting their dogs on them, or painting or maiming members of the troop. One wants to prevent the same situation from occurring in Baviaanskloof.

A few guiding principles for baboon-human co-existence in the Baviaanskloof are:

  • To ensure public participation through environmental education (Don’t feed baboons, make sure your waste is stored in a baboon-proof bin, don’t shoot the Alpha male, positive ecological role of baboons etc.);
  • To improve waste management;
  • To establish baboon-proof waste bins in public camping sites;
  • To maintain a research component;
  • In the case of fields and vegetables being eaten, to plant targeted goods within an enclosed wire cage, or else set up an electrified fence around fields if they are of economic significance. 

Bat: The Bushmen applied paint to their skins as protection against the sun, as a cleanser for everyday use and rituals, and as a remedy. Bat droppings are mixed with water for a facial paint.

Bees: Many rock paintings depict beehives and swarms of bees. Beeswax was also an ingredient of the paint they used to make paintings, making it stick better to the rock surface wall. Bees and honey were highly significant to the painters. A bees’ nest was regarded as private property that could be bequeathed by a man to his son. In the early years of the 19th century, Rev John Campbell wrote of how the Bushmen claimed all the honey in the mountains and guarded it jealously by marking the hives. This claim was respected by other people, who found it easier to trade than to steal. Apart from its sweetness, it could be made into an alcoholic drink referred to as bee-wine or honey-beer. The beverage was sometimes mixed with a special root that made it more intoxicating. After the consumption of the beverage, dancing would take place. When the bees were swarming, it would be considered as a sign that it was a powerful time to dance the medicine dance. Bees are also present in the Bushmen folklore. It tells of how bees stung the head off the god Heisib, who tried to take more than his fair share by going back to the same hive two or three times a day, leaving only the exposed brains. This story clearly illustrates the concept of conservation amongst Bushmen.  

Birds: Birds, especially the swallow, were strongly associated with rain. They said “the wind became a bird”, and told of how he lived in a cave in the mountains. “He was flying and no longer walked like he used to”. A Bushman by the beautiful name of Smoke’s Man claimed to know the exact place where the wind bird lived.

Blue Crane: The Blue Crane was “a girl of early race” - when animals, including some birds, were people. She made it her special business to protect the children. It is therefore appropriate that it is South Africa’s national bird. There is a story of how she protected a girl who was collecting ant larvae from an evil man of early race. On another occasion, however, she was eaten by two lions, Belt and Mar, who are now the two stars that act as pointers of the Southern Cross.

Bushpig: The Bushpig is portrayed in a number of paintings. One painting portrays two bush pigs that are surrounded by a number of people. No folklore surrounding them exists.

Crow: Walter Batiss recorded a pied crow from the Dordrecht area, whose white throat is clearly visible. According to Bushman folklore, a piece of fat was hung around a crow’s neck when it was sent to help Kaggen and his nephew Kwammang-a when they were caught in a rock fall. Presumably the fat was intended as emergency-rations for Kwammang-a who complained of hunger when he was found. The same mission of mercy was tried using the Cape Raven, but that greedy bird had eaten all but a small portion of the fat – hence its lesser white markings! 

Dassie: The dassie (rock hyrax) was an important food source for Bushmen. Only two paintings of dassies have been recorded. The one depicts a dassie being clubbed, whilst the other depicts dassie pelts stretched out to dry. In Bushmen folklore, Kaggen’s wife was a dassie. No stories of her personality are told, simply her assisting and scolding role as wife of Kaggen. One story tells of how Kaggen invited All-devourer to come and visit him and his wife, despite his wife’s warnings not to. When the All-devourer came, he swallowed Kaggen but he was rescued by his son who cut a hole in the All-devourer with a heated assegai. When he emerged from the hole, Kaggen was thirsty and drank a lot of water, contrary to the warnings of his wife not to do so. It was then that she had to revive him by beating him on the shin with a long stick.

Eland: Eland are the most depicted animal in Busman paintings. Many ideas have been expressed concerning the meaning. It has been argued that the San saw the form of their society reflected in the changing structure of eland herds. A number of small San groups amalgamate in the spring when food is plentiful, and then split up in winter when resources are scarcer. A similar phenomenon occurs within herds of eland. The San also did the Eland Bull dance when a girl enters puberty. An old San woman replied with a wistful look in her eyes when asked about the Eland Bull dance:

They do the Eland Bull Dance so that she will be well, she will be beautiful; that she won’t be thin; so that if there is hunger, she won’t be very hungry and she won’t be terribly thirsty, and she will be peaceful. That all will go well with the land and that the rain will fall.

Frogs: No paintings of frogs have been found. It is sometimes mentioned in the folklore, but frogs did not play a significant role in Bushman folklore. The fat of bull-frogs was used as an ingredient in the paint Bushmen mixed.

Gemsbok: Like the Eland, the gemsbok (oryx) is an important animal in their belief system. According to one of the tales, the gemsbok is white because he ate liquid honey. Furthermore, the gemsbok was Heisib, the supreme trickster’s wife. One of the most widespread medicine songs is that of the Gemsbok. It was believed that the black and white markings on their faces are an indication of their magical importance.

The name Gemsbok is derived from the Dutch word “geheimsbok” meaning secretive antelope. Early Dutch settlers gave it this name because of the mask like markings on the face. Due to its near independence of water it is usually associated with the drier western part of southern Africa like the Kalahari and even Namib Desert. In the latter part they supplement their grass diet with succulents and bulbs to meet their moisture requirements, freeing them from permanent water points for long periods of time. They are also physiologically adapted to life in the extreme heat of these regions. Gemsbok have a sponge-like formation of blood vessels called the carotid rete in the nasal cavity, which cools blood down through rapid breathing before it enters the brain. A territorial bull will have a mixed herd of cows and subordinate bulls with him. Only he mates, any other prime bull has to challenge him or live alone. These regal animals are a common sighting in our protected game area. The gemsbok on Sederkloof farm were brought from Namibia, and were introduced in July 2007. 

Guineafowl: The Guineafowl is depicted in a number of paintings. It also serves as a source of food. No supplementary material concerning its significance in Busman folklore could be found.

Hartebeest: The hartebeest and the eland are things of Kaggen; therefore they have magical power. A woman who has a young child does not eat the hartebeest. Furthermore, the moon is regarded as a male that hunts once a month at new moon when he kills a hartebeest and feeds his family. He then makes a cloak of the hide for himself, but his wife gradually pulls it away from him so that at the next full moon he has nothing left. He then starts to pull it back, but by the time he has completely recovered it, his children come to complain that they are hungry, and he must go hunting again. According to Bushman folklore; the hartebeest is red because he ate the red comb of young bees. The head and hide of a hartebeest were sometimes worn over men’s shoulders when hunting something big like an elephant or eland. Whilst advancing towards their quarry through the grass, they would carefully mimic the actions of the hartebeest.

Honeyguide: The Bushmen made use of the Honey guide to lead them to a beehive by fluttering around and calling until they followed it. When the Bushmen found the honey it remained quiet until it had its chance to get its share.  This observation has been corroborated by modern observation, and it appears to be recorded in a painting near Concession, Zimbabwe.

Jackal: The jackal was seen as a cunning trickster amongst the Bushmen. There are many interesting tales insinuating its scavenger habits. Bushmen had a prohibition on eating the jackal’s heart for fear of acquiring its timidity. This was strictly enforced on children. When hunted, it was not for a source of food, but its pelt would have been used as a fur garment.

Kudu: Connections that are made with kudu and Busman folklore are not very well known, seeing that paintings that depict them mostly occur in the Transvaal and Limpopo areas, and Bushmen have long since left those regions before any of their beliefs could be recorded.

Kudus are by far the largest animals which still occur in the area naturally, apart from the Eland, which was reintroduced. The majestic bulls with their spiral horns can weigh up to 280kg. The cows have no horns, and can weigh about 180 kg. As with the leopard, it is their solitary lifestyle that ensured their preservation. Although you might see 3 or 4 kudus together, they avoid forming obvious herds. They live in thick shrubby areas on the valley floor, as well as in the spekboom hills. If you sit quietly and watch the riverbed in front of the chalets, you might see one appear and disappear again into the thicket. 

When night falls, their confidence grows, and they venture out into open country and mountain slopes. By simply observing a kudu’s behaviour and physiology, it becomes obvious that their senses are superior. Large eyes, massive ears and wide nostrils. It took the skill and patience of a Bushman to stalk up on this antelope undetected. 

Leopard: The leopard is not often seen in paintings, although it is represented at a few isolated spots. The folklore surrounding it is not well known. The G/wi Bushmen personified the rain as a giant leopard and the lightning as its flashing eyes. There is a painting in the Drakensberg of a leopard leaping at a group of people who scatter in disarray.

The Cape leopard, as it is referred to, is seen as a sub-species, and is approximately half the size of its Savannah relatives. It is nocturnal, and can live off something as large as a kudu-bull, up to things as small as bats and insects. A large male weighs approximately 40 kg and, a female 25kg.

Male and female leopards live separate lives. One male’s territory typically overlaps three to four female territories. Males protect their territories against other males, and females against other females. Male and female would only pair up if she is in estrous, about once every four weeks. The pair would then spend about three days together mating. Thereafter the male has nothing to do with the cubs, but would tolerate them if their paths cross. Cubs stay with the female for up to 18 months, after which they also become solitary and enforce their own territory. In the Baviaanskloof their main diet consists of rock hyraxes (an animal the size of a rabbit that lives on rocky cliffs) and grysbok. Baboons, contrary to popular believe, are avoided rather than pursued due to their defensive organization. Conservation awareness and expansion of protected areas is turning the tide in favour of the leopard.  

This is a story from Mr. Pieter Kruger, land owner of Zandvlakte in Baviaanskloof, who bought the farm in 1976. He tells the story about the problems his neighbours were experiencing with leopards that kill too many of their sheep. His neighbours reacted to this by hunting it. They had an ongoing problem with leopard killing their sheep. His hypothesis is as follows: Leopards are territorial creatures. They live in one area for approximately eight years, and patrol this area against other leopards. When you kill the resident leopard on your farm, you cause a disruption in nature. The removal of one leopard means the entrance of a new leopard to occupy this territory. This means you have a higher turnover of leopards that move through the area if you concurrently shoot them, thereby causing more sheep to be killed. One should cooperate with nature, rather than working against it. The resident leopard will defend your property against other leopards, and might take a sheep occasionally as compensation for the service it provides you. The cost of a sheep once in a while is less than the R800 a month you will have to pay for someone to patrol the area against leopard. He also states that he has not had any problems with leopard in all the years that he’s been living on the farm because he has applied this philosophy. The main things to focus on in terms of leopard conservation are:

  • To develop and support holistic, non-lethal control measures (Anatolian dogs, protective collars, live and safe traps, Alpacas, Bengal Tiger and lion urine detergents etc.) 
  • To research leopard ecology and the effectiveness of control measures. 
  • To drive an advocacy campaign to outlaw, name and shame certain practises, and a consumer pressure campaign to ban gin and poison traps, which they believe are archaic and barbaric practices.  
  • To develop a “green” brand of meat and fibre products that economically entrenches the ecological and ethical acceptable production practises.
  • To develop expanding predator conservation areas in reserves and rangelands, and productive partnerships towards these efforts (Smuts 2007).

Mantis: Kaggen is always depicted as the praying mantis, the trickster, the Bushman Superman.  According to references, not one of the thousands of paintings visited by the authors depicted the mantis as a recognisable figure. There is one painting up in the hills of the mantis, next to a group of people sitting around a fire burning bright with yellow and red.

Mushroom: Bushmen used powdered brown mushrooms as an ingredient of the paint they used to make rock art.

Nightjar: The nightjar is depicted in a cave in the Dordrecht district. The pennant-winged nightjar is also depicted in a painting, and a cave in the Setsoasi Valley of Lesotho contains a painting which includes four of these rare birds. No folklore surrounds it, aside from it being a bird, and the various connections that are associated with birds in general.

Ostrich: Numerous paintings and stories surrounding the ostrich exist. Its skin and feathers were used as camouflage while hunting. It is the easiest to disguise oneself as an ostrich because it is the only other two-legged mammal in the veld. Its eggs were used to store water in, as well as to make jewelry for women. The attractiveness and durability of diamonds is to a Western woman as the attractiveness and durability of ostrich shell beads was to a Bushman woman. The breastbone and half eggshells were used as dishes, and the feathers had an important use in hunting.

Porcupine: Paintings of porcupine is as rare as seeing a live one. The Bushmen credit the porcupine to tell the time by the stars so that it knows the approach of dawn and can retreat to its lair. In this it was said to be accompanied by bats, and to exercise the power of making men sleepy so they would not lie and wait for it. The porcupine was also the daughter of the All-devourer in Bushmen folklore.

Quagga: The quagga is depicted in a number of paintings. References in the folklore are mainly concerned with the quagga as a source of meat. The meat of quagga was obtained by hunting it in the disguise of an ostrich, by driving the quagga towards ostrich feather wands which directed the animals towards the hunters lying in wait.

Rhebok: Paintings in the Natal Drakensberg show rhebok copulating, a pair of fighting rhebok, and a rhebok suckling. Many paintings of mothers and their young exist, and it has been hypothesized that rhebok symbolise the Bushman family, whereas the larger eland symbolises a group of Bushman families. One also sees theriantropes (half-human with the head of a rhebok), which are usually associated with trance. A Bushman guide explained it as ‘men who had died and now live in rivers’.

Snake: In San thought, snakes are closely related with rain and water, like swallows, they are said to be ‘the rain’s things’. There is also a Busman statement that the rain puts aside the cobra, the puffadder and the tortoise as meat. Certain Bushmen believed that when a man died his spirit became a snake. If the snake was ever seen near his grave it was not killed. Furthermore, Bushmen were not averse in eating snakes, Bushmen walking with chunks of python over their shoulders like logs of wood have been observed. The regenerative power of snakes to shed their skins annually impressed the Bushmen. A charm medicine that consists of burnt snake powder was used to revive the dancers in a medicine dance. Revival, regeneration and rain – with its power to initiate growth – are related concepts. Finally, snake venom was used as poison on arrow heads, and it was mixed as an ingredient in paint to prevent the paint from clotting.

Stork: The Bushmen were fascinated with the concept of flying, and birds are often depicted in their paintings. A group of whale-headed storks was recorded from a shelter above the Maleme Dam north of the Limpopo. The birds are painted life-size. The reason for this might be because they are so unusual in the district.

Termite: /Xwe, just like Kaggen, was a master of transformation. When /Xwe turned himself into a tree, his wife picked up the fruits, whereupon he turned into a termite. There are paintings of termites in the Matopos. They are about life-size and the wings are painted with the delicacy that obviously called for fine brushes and careful workmanship. Termite fat was an ingredient in the paint used by rock artists.

Tortoise: There are few paintings that depict tortoises. Like the cobra and the puffadder, they were also the rain’s things. There is a story that tells of how a boy and a girl found a tortoise which screamed when the boy first picked it up. After this shock they took it home, and roasted it. At points in the story there are signs of rain which eventually falls and they can collect it in the tortoiseshell cup.

Vulture: Vultures were always associated with death, as they are still in the days we are living in. It is also present in Bushmen tales of the “early people”. When animals were people, that is. The vultures were present in these stories, and are portrayed as being very greedy. There is a painting in the Aliwal North district of a flock of vultures that cluster around the head of a dead eland. In addition, there is another painting in the Uitenhage district that shows a fine flock of vultures flying. They are adjacent to a painting of an elephant.

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