Fourteen grade 10 learners from Khutliso Daniels Secondary Senior School, Grahamstown, recently saw, for the first time ever, Bushman rock art on an outing with Inkcubeko Nendalo.
Inkcubeko Nendalo aims to raise awareness around the link between cultural diversity and biodiversity amongst school learners. The field of Bio-cultural Diversity (BCD) addresses critical issues for the sustainability of life on our planet and focuses on humans as a part of the natural environment, not as separate from and dominant over it. Its object of study is the interdependence of people and nature, both historically and today.
The group congregated below the site on the banks of the Botha’s River on the Grahamstown commonage to see a rock shelter partly hidden behind bushes and trees. They climbed up the rocks to the rock art panel in smaller groups where they were shown the paintings of small antelope and human figures by Mluleki Nkosi and Tony Dold. The learners were fascinated to hear that the paintings were 100’s of years old and were told that the paint was made from natural substances such as plant juices, bird droppings, ochre and blood. Some learners were horrified to learn that the Bushmen slept in rock shelters like these, without blankets and, most significantly for one learner, “without shoes!” Many of the learners were deeply moved by the experience.
The group discussed how nature was so important for the Bushmen, not just for practical reasons such as food and fuel, but also for spiritual reasons. It was explained that this spiritual association with nature is still important today, particularly among Xhosa diviners – called amaGqirha. Referring to the swallows' mud nests under the rock shelter an example was made of the diviners' song Nkonjane ngubanina lugulayo? (meaning Swallow, who is sick?).
Many plant medicines and edible plants were learnt from the Bushmen. An example is the imula plant that is used to make “honey beer (mead) called iQhilika, learnt from the Bushman. Referring again to the swallows nests, the mud pellets are used in traditional medicine.
The influence of the Bushman language on isiXhosa was illustrated with examples of “borrowed” words such as iGqirha – a Bushman word meaning “healer” and place names such as Shixini.
Grade 10 learners from Khutliso Daniels Secondary Senior School in the rock shelter
Learners were told that rock art sites were sacred places for the abaThwa (Bushmen) and that they should be treated with great respect. Paintings should never be touched or defaced with graffiti and nothing should ever be removed from the sites.