One of Ukhahlamba’s most famous rock art sites is situated near the hutted camp of Kamberg. The sandstone shelter – termed Game Pass Shelter – is a two hour walk from the camp, and visitors must be guided by one of the local AMAFA custodians (AMAFA is the organisation responsible for looking after and managing uKhahlamba’s world famous rock art collection – AMAFA means “inheritance” in Zulu). I was taken to Game Pass Shelter by Raymond Mweni, one of two locals who have been trained by AMAFA, and who are paid by visitors to go to the sites.
(You may ask why you have to be guided – well, according to Celeste Rossouw at AMAFA, there is still a disconcerting tendency among visitors to damage the rock art. It’s worth emphasising that even just visiting the site can have adverse affects on the art. Dust kicked up by shoes collects on the art, and can cause it to deteriorate. Some people still throw water or liquid on the art (in the attempt to make it clearer), and some still touch it, leaving oily residue from their skin on the art. Even breathing close to the art can cause condensation on the art, damaging it. And worst of all, there are people who still try to remove the art by chipping away at the rock, although this is rare. So the rules are: make sure you are accompanied by a custodian, don’t touch the art, keep a good distance and don’t kick up too much dust.
Game Pass Shelter is where local rock art expert David Lewis-Williams came up with his theory that South African bushmen rock art is highly symbolic and metaphorical, rather than just a depiction of everyday events. It is at Game Pass Shelter that several “shamans” can be seen painted on the rock, and one in particular is holding the tail of a dying eland. It was this image which gave impetus to David’s theory that the shamans draw power from their favourite, most powerful animal – the eland. They were able to harness the power of the animal, and use it for a variety of purposes – to bring rain, to heal sick people or to detect where the animals were in the mountains. For more detailed info on the meaning of the rock art, go to AMAFA’s website.
Game Pass Shelter is probably the best and most beautiful example of rock art that is easily accessible to the public. There are a total of 30 sites open to the public in these mountains, and 16 of these are in Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. To get a list of custodians for each of these sites, contact Celeste Rossouw at AMAFA at email@example.com.
Celeste told me that the oldest rock art in the Drakensberg is about 7 000 years in age, at Good Hope Shelter near Sani Pass. But on average, most of the art is about 4 000 years old. There are approximately 1 200 sites in these mountains which contain rock art – some sites like Elands Cave have more than 1 000 paintings, many of which are layered more than eight times over each other. Other sites contain only one or two paintings. It quickly becomes evident that the Drakensberg is one of the world’s most concentrated collections of rock art in the world.
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