Monday, November 05, 2007

The uKhahlamba Caves

At Giants Castle you can get to the historic uKhahlamba caves, where the the bush-men or San people, and other tribes have left their paintings for 5000 years, from the mist of time up to the 19th century. The uKhahlamba is a historic sight of immense value, a gigantic history book of the area. The meanings behind these paintings are, however, lost in time and shrouded in mystery.

The uKhahlamba is also the native name of the mountains themselves. The "Barrier of Spears" is a beautiful, and very good name on these steep and pointed mountains. Here they lived thousands of years ago until they were driven away from these areas. Today the San people, or the Bush men inhabit less fertile areas, as the Kalahari desert.

But five thousand years ago they lived in the Drakensberg. Here they left deposits through their long history, layer upon layer. The San people were, in turn, driven away by other tribes of hunters-gatherers that stayed here until the white farmers arrived.

There has been no settlement at the uKhahlamba since the end of the 19th century.

We were met by an authorized guide and there only granted access to the caves for a maximum of 20 visitors. Luckily, we were fewer, and none of us had to wait for another hour.

We climbed up wooden stairs located under the large cliff formation. I have to admit, looking up, I was slightly worried that the stones ahead would fall down on us.

There were two caves. At the first had paintings and and a display of how the cave settlement may have looked like (image top). Here there were many old paintings, but the distance to them made it a little difficult to see the faded paintings.

At the next cave, it was far easier to see the motives, as these two strange humans, described as holy men, by the guide. Often you wonder where you get the interpretations like these from, and I may admit that I am slightly skeptical as to what paintings like these may mean.

As I have studied archeology, I know how difficult it is to bridge the long time span between the time we live, and the mythical world, in which the San people lived.

The paintings were beautiful, and the colours were made from blood, ash, and other material and it is remarkable that these natural colours have persisted that long.

But much of the art has been damaged or destroyed through the long history, naturally or as acts of vandalism. Our guide told us, for instance, that some of the paintings had been subjected to heat from camp fires, as soldiers had stayed in the caves. Still the uKhahlamba caves is definitely worth a visit. Both through the process of getting there, and the experience of visiting these strange and magic caves.

As we left, we came out from the shade and the coolness of the caves and watched the beauty of the nature, that has been the scene of thousand of years of the dramatic history of the San people.

We left by a very steep and paved walkway, and as we turned to the left we could see the uKhahlamba, the Barrier of Spears under a cloudless sky. This was the most beautiful day, during our trip, I think. I walked with my friends, along the river on the lush valley floor, knowing that we were leaving that day.

Wednesday, October 3rd - four weeks ago, and still such a long time. We were leaving for the capital of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

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