Londi Ndzima is Bushmans Kloof’s Rock Art Curator. Combining his knowledge of the Western Cape’s 75,000-plus years of human history with his love of its rock art, he’s responsible for overseeing the huge number of anthropological sites around the lodge. Thanks to the extensive care Londi and the Bushmans Kloof team take to preserve these incredible sites, the lodge’s resident rock art has recently been awarded the highest level of South African National Heritage Site designation. Here we catch up with Londi to learn about the paintings and what they can tell us about the area’s historic residents.
Bushmans Kloof is home to the largest collection of rock art in the world... How many paintings are there and how old are they?
“There are approximately 140 rock art sites surrounding Bushmans Kloof. Most cannot be dated directly, but we’ve approximated some of the sites using radiocarbon dating: the most ancient are between 1,000-10,000 years old. For context, the oldest engravings in Africa—the ochre marks from South Africa’s Blombos Cave—are roughly 75,000 years old, with the oldest paintings dating back some 27,500 years.
When dating, it’s important to look at what was painted and how it has been depicted. Paintings of sheep and cattle, as well as finger paintings made by the Khoikhoi tribe, are all less than 2,000 years old, for example.”
How are the paintings made?
“Firstly, the pigments for the paint are produced from nearby natural resources. Ochre provides reds and yellows, charcoal is used for blacks, manganese oxide for browns and white clay for bright streaks. Once the required pigments have been made, the paint is carefully applied to the surface through a combination of reeds, feathers, fingers and porcupine quills—each providing a different thickness of brushstroke.”
What do they depict?
“The rock paintings and engravings around Bushmans Kloof are part of San religious beliefs and ritual culture. They do not, as is a common misconception, depict what’s on the menu, but are rather a form of Bible. Some paintings portray the animals that the San believed could help them gain power from God and the spirit world. Others meanwhile focus on people, showing how they danced in order to gain power.”
Is it difficult to preserve Bushmans Kloof’s rock art?
“The advantage of rock art conservation on our reserve is that it’s all on private land. As such, we can regulate a sustainable number of visitors and prevent interference.”
What makes Bushmans Kloof’s rock art tours so special?
“For me, accessibility is a big asset, as many of our sites can be accessed by most people, even those with mobility issues. At the same time, Bushmans Kloof’s displays cover a great diversity of images, from a few centimetres to over a metre tall.
In addition, we also immerse guests in the Western Cape landscape. We walk through the local vegetation, identifying different plants and their respective uses from nutrition to medicine to poison, and show guests how to track the nearby animals.”
Bushmans Kloof has an incredible Heritage Centre. Can you describe a few of the unique relics on display?
“Some of my favourites are the ostrich eggshell flasks. These were made by drilling a small hole at the top of an egg with a bone-drill and then using grass as a stopper. Other relics include dried cocoon rattles, which were strung together around ankles to rattle gently with each step, and a remarkable sinew-string bow. It’s made of flexible wood and was bent gently into shape after being heated in hot sand. The sinew-string was attached while wet; as it dried, it contracted, creating a draw tension of up to nine kilograms.”
Explore the world’s largest collection of rock art and learn about the tribes behind them when visiting the beautiful environs of Red Carnation Hotels’ Bushmans Kloof.