In the heart of the Cederberg, just 270 km from Cape Town, set among wide-open plains, majestic rock formations and crystal clear waterfalls, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat is a haven of staggering beauty and timeless tranquillity. A South African Natural Heritage Site, it has long been the proud custodian of the cultural heritage and rock art of the San people who traversed this area thousands of years ago.
Today Bushmans Kloof, part of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, still plays an important role in supporting local culture in the Cederberg region, by involving the local communities in various tourism and conservation projects. This has led to Bushmans Kloof winning many awards for its outstanding leadership and commitment to sustainable tourism principles.
One of the most notable initiatives is the support of the traditional Riel Dance of the region – an age-old dance form that is recognised as a form of cultural expression. Born out of traditional Khoi and San ceremonial dances around the fire, it has been practiced by descendants of these indigenous cultures for many years, most of whom were sheep shearers and farm workers from across the Cape.
The Riel is a high-energy dance involving frenetic footwork and is performed with lots of bravado, showmanship and foot stomping after the Khoi and San’s way of celebrating a good hunt or a joyous occasion. Other Riel dances include vigorous courtship rituals, and mimicking the antics of local animals - baboons, ostriches, snakes and meerkat. Dances are performed on the bare earth, stirring the dust to swirl round the dancers feet.
Revived through the efforts of writer and storyteller, Elias Nel of the Afrikaanse Taal & Kultuurvereniging (ATKV), in 2006 the ATKV Riel dance competition was launched, to maintain the existence and survival of the dance.
In efforts led by Bushmans Kloof to preserve this wonderful cultural heritage, two groups of talented young people from neighbouring Wupperthal, some of whom were the children of Bushmans Kloof staff, were sponsored to form a Riel dance troop called Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers. The story of this dancing troupe is one that feeds the soul; it is a story of inspiration, talent and hard work that took humble people living close to the earth to reach for the stars and compete successfully in local and international dancing contests.
Floris Smith, an ex-dancer himself and also formerly the Executive Chef at Bushmans Kloof formed the troupe in 2012. Floris trains and choreographs the group’s repertoire, accompanied on many occasions by several local and legendary musicians whose catchy lyrics, singing and instrumental playing have contributed enormously to the Trappers overall success.
The name of the troupe is an acronym for the names of some of the villages that the children come from: Nuwe Plaas, Grasvlei, Koueberg, Suurrug and Agterste Vlei. The Trappers success has been phenomenal - the troupe qualified for the finals of the ATKV Riel Dance Championships, held in Paarl in December 2012 and have since been recognised internationally, with annual successes at the ATKV Junior Riel Dance Championships, and in 2015 competing against more than 60 countries at the World Championships in Los Angeles, and have a proud collection of gold, silver and bronze medals. Further recognition of the Trappers was their being chosen as the Face of Rooibos SA Ltd in 2017.
Dressed typically in traditional farm workers outfits, the girls in dresses with aprons and old frontier bonnets, and the boys in waistcoats and hats adorned with feathers, finished with the famous, hand-made red veldskoene from Wupperthal, these enthusiastic young people are ready to welcome guests and entertain crowds for years to come. Riel festivals are also popping up all over the province and beyond, providing dancers with the opportunity to perform and entertain in public.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of © Red Carnation Hotels.