A short guide to Rock Art at Bakkrans

Welcome to Bakkrans Nature Reserve where rock paintings and archaeological sites record the history of people who lived here millennia ago

Formerly, this land was used as grazing for sheep, goats and cattle as well as small scale crop farming. Recent rehabilitation has allowed the natural fauna and flora to recover. Species such as Cape mountain zebra, ostrich and eland, illustrated in the paintings, have been reintroduced, but elephants and hippo have not.

In the millennia preceding the advent of farming, the Red Cederberg was the home of hunter-gatherers, ancestors of the San (Bushmen). There is a bountiful and diverse range of food, such as geophytes, berries, seeds and flowers, as well as medicinal plants in the mountains and valleys of this area which the hunter-gatherers would have gathered seasonally. Small and large animals provided meat. Evidence of this occupation is evident in the archaeological sites and rock paintings in the reserve. Members of the Eastern Cederberg Rock Art Group (eCRAG) have been documenting these sites since 2007.

Accommodation facilities at Bakkrans are situated near a number of rock art sites that can be visited on a self-guided Rock Art Trail whilst other sites can be visited with a guide. This pamphlet introduces visitors to inter alia, the range of rock paintings, their making and role in San society and their spiritual and artistic significance in the landscape. It seems that there were no rules for the location of rock painting sites which are found on rocks in the open, in large and small rock shelters, on high mountains tops and low down in valleys. The artists may have chosen places for specific reasons. Although these reasons are now not known to us, the paintings remind us of the spiritual bond between the people who made them and the landscape in which they lived.

The paintings were made with paint mixed from natural ingredients found in the landscape. The coloured pigments came from ochre, charcoal and clay mixed with binding agents such as egg, blood, fat and plant juices. The resulting liquid or paste was applied with feathers, brushes, reeds and even fingers. If successfully mixed, the paint can remain on the rock surface for thousands of years.

Many explanations have been put forward for the primary motivation for San and Khoe rock art in southern Africa; the most compelling is that it is essentially a religious art that depicts what the people believed rather than what they ate. Animals such as eland and elephant were believed to have special powers that helped the San gain access to the spirit world to heal the sick, make rain and influence game animals.

Self-guided trail to Bakkrans 1, 4, 5 and 6

This short walk will enable visitors to get a taste of the range of rock paintings on Bakkrans. We recommend you start at Bakkrans 4, the rock shelter situated above the lapa.

Bakkrans 4 (Figure 1) is a good example of the changing styles and traditions of rock art made by the various peoples who lived here over a period of several thousand years. The earliest paintings are of elephant, eland and processions of people, and were done by San hunter-gatherers (Figures 2 and 3). Later, within the last 2000 years, Khoe herders made patterns of dots and enigmatic designs by applying paint with their fingers (Figures 4 and 5). Within the last 200 years, farmers wrote their names and the dates of their visits on the wall with charcoal and paint, recording events such as the arrival of the first vehicle (vragmotor) (Figures 5 and 6) and the number of goats (50 bokke) at the site. The dung accumulated by goats over nearly a century can be seen on the floor of the shelter.

Image

Figure 1. Members of eCRAG recording the rock paintings at Bakkrans 4. The string is used to measure the width of the shelter so that a plan of the site can be drawn to scale. The back wall is marked off in panels and all the paintings in each panel are recorded and photographed. The floor of the shelter is covered with a thick layer of sheep and goat dung.

Image

Figure 2. The red human figures are typical of San rock paintings and the postures of some of the people indicate they are dancing. Dancing was one of the activities used by the San to enter the spirit world. The large red rectangular shape in the upper half of the photograph is the body of an eland. The legs, neck and head were originally painted in white but the white paint has not lasted as well as the red and is no longer visible. The power of the eland would have helped the dancers in their journey to the spirit world to obtain power for healing, rain-making and other purposes.

Image

Figure 3. Painting of a dancer, possibly male, at Bakkrans 4. Note how the artist has placed the feet of the figure on a natural shelf in the rock face. Some of the red patches on the shelter wall are natural stains of iron oxide in the rock.

Image

Figure 4. These enigmatic designs were painted with a finger, probably by Khoe herders who first came into the Western Cape with sheep and cattle about 2000 years ago. Their precise meaning is not known, but similar designs were used by the Griquas and other Khoe groups during ceremonies such as initiation for the coming of age of boys and girls when special aprons were made for them to wear.

Image

Figure 5. This photograph shows all three periods of painting at Bakkrans 4. The large eland body at the bottom was painted by a San hunter-gatherer. The enigmatic dots and finger strokes were the work of Khoe herders who came to the region about 2000 years ago, and the date of 1898 in white and the chalk signature on top of the eland body were placed there by more recent farmers.

Image

Figure 6. The chalk date of 1902 records a visit to Bakkrans 4 by people from the farming community. The message in Afrikaans in black charcoal dated 1939 records the arrival of the first motor vehicle to the site.

Bakkrans 1 is situated below the access road to the lapa and north-east of the main camp. It is a small shelter behind a bush (Figures 7 and 8) and should be approached from below the cliff on the eastern side. Once inside (Figure 9) it is apparent that the artists were intent on painting images of women (Figure 10), most of who are dancing and clapping. One has an apron on her back (Figure 11).  There are several male figures as well who are dancing in exaggerated postures (Figure 12). Scenes like this are typical of the San trance dance. Women would begin clapping and singing in the late afternoon and then would dance around the fire to encourage the healers and rain-makers to dance and enter trance so that their spirit could leave their body and travel to the spirit world.

Image

Figure 7. Bakkrans 1 from the slope below the rock shelter, marked by the arrow.

Image

Figure 8. Bakkrans 1 to the left of the dark green bush that is visible also in Figure 7.

Image

Figure 9. Bakkrans 1 has a low roof and the paintings are close to the floor. Be careful not to stir up dust as this accumulates on the painted surfaces and can cause damage.

Image

Figure 10. This procession of dancing women illustrates how they provided energy and encouragement to the community participating in trance dances and healing ceremonies. Note their large buttocks which are a sign of well-being, and how their arms mimic the unison of their steps.

Image

Figure 11. This female figure at Bakkrans 1 is placed above the procession of dancing women. She has a leather apron tied around her waist that hangs over her buttocks and is lifted by her energetic dancing and clapping. She could be a healer, or she could be leading the dancing women in an initiation ritual.

Image

Figure 12. This group of 5 men in dancing postures also contributes to the dancing theme at Bakkrans 1. They would have been participating in the ritual played out by the women. During trance dances the men and women who entered trance would assume exaggerated postures, bend forward from the waist and sometimes bleed from the nose. The paintings sometimes show them with exceptionally long limbs as people in trance feel as if their bodies are being stretched.

Bakkrans 5 is situated on about the same contour as Bakkrans 1 and although the floor area is not large, the roof is high (Figure 13). There are no paintings of animals or people, but there are several interesting compositions. On the left hand side facing the back wall is a pattern of thin red lines. The meaning and purpose of these lines is unknown and they appear to have been made with an ochre crayon rather than paint (Figure 14). Some people have suggested that they represent rain because they come from a central point. On the right hand side are two symbols scratched into the rock surface (Figure 15). These are not known to occur at other rock art sites and could be recent (20th century) additions.

Image

Figure 13. Bakkrans 5 with natural red stains in the rock on the back wall, a high roof and rocky floor.

Image

Figure 14. One of the clusters of red lines at Bakkrans 5 coming from a central point at the top and possibly made with an ochre crayon. These patterns are found at several sites in the eastern Cederberg and appear to be contemporary with the San fine-line paintings. Their meaning is not known.

Image

Figure 15. Two symbols scratched into the rock at Bakkrans 5. They have not been found elsewhere and could therefore be very recent, perhaps the late 20th century. The one on the right is reminiscent of the Aids ribbon.

Bakkrans 6 is west of Bakkrans 5 and is also against the cliff face (Figure 16) overlooking a flat area to the north that has been partly enclosed with a dry stone wall (Figure 17), probably made by shepherds within the past two centuries. Like Bakkrans 5, the back wall of the shelter has patterns of thin red lines (Figure 18). They presumably had the same meaning and purpose and are found quite widely in the Red Cederberg.

Image

Figure 16. Bakkrans 6 showing the back wall and shallow overhanging roof.

Image

Figure 17. Part of the dry stone wall below Bakkrans 6 that was presumably made by shepherds within the last two hundred years.

Image

Figure 18. Parallel red lines on the wall of Bakkrans 6. In this case they do not seem to come from a central point.

Visiting Rock-Art Sites

When you visit a rock painting site, look around to enjoy the view, the ambience and the sense of place. Then take time to examine the paintings in detail and contemplate. You will find that the longer you spend doing this, the more you will see and understand.

If everyone respects the rock paintings at Bakkrans they will still be there for future generations to enjoy hundreds of years from now. You can help conserve them by remembering the following facts.

  1. Touching rock paintings can cause serious damage – your fingers leave sweat and oil on the rock that cannot be removed later, and might also dislodge loose painted surfaces.
  2. Putting liquid or oil on paintings will not improve them – it causes significant damage that cannot be reversed.
  3. Smoke from fires in a rock shelter can obscure rock paintings forever.
  4. Walk carefully within rock shelters – you can prevent the soil from eroding and stirring up dust.
  5. Beware of brushing against painted surfaces with your backpack – this type of abrasion can cause damage.
  6. Writing near or over rock art, or making your own pictures, is illegal – and spoils the art for other visitors.

Please take away all your litter and rubbish, even cigarette ends  – other visitors are coming and want to see the art and enjoy the unspoiled sense of place.

Alteration or damage to rock art and archaeological sites without a permit is a contravention of the National Heritage Resources Act (Act 25 of 1999) and anyone found guilty of an offence is liable to imprisonment or a large fine.