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					McGregor Museum Kimberley
Archaeology Department: Wildebeest Kuil EXTRACTS FROM THE AUDIO TOUR TEXT, WILDEBEEST KUIL ROCK ART CENTRE

Text by David Morris and Geoff Blundell
Station 2: Farm-worker history The ash-heap and rubbish midden...are the archaeological remains of twentieth century farm-worker life - in all probability the life of descendants of the last independent San and Khoekhoe people of this region.

Partly because of the harsh semi-arid conditions of the Northern Cape, pockets of semi-independent hunter-gatherers and herders lived on here well into the colonial era. But frontiersmen from the Cape had come inland as sheep farmers, traders and raiders,

through the eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. For some time before the

discovery of diamonds - that changed everything – Khoe-San people were already being and other indigenous and immigrant groups or individuals. Subsequently, descendants of the Khoe-San were absorbed into colonial society, as labourers on farms and in the mines.

marginalized. Some united to form new frontier communities combining San, Korana

Along with the changes in way of life, many aspects of culture such as language and religion were eroded away. When the descendants of these people were classified the past. "Coloured", this imposed Apartheid category demeaned the identities and heritage of

The pit here may have been dug as a well, to obtain water, but it was later used as a rubbish dump by farm-workers who dwelt nearby. Today, this ash-heap, too, is an archaeological site.

Station 3: Stone kraals The stone walling here is rectangular - an indication it was built in the colonial era. These kraals or enclosures were for the livestock of perhaps the first settler farmers here, or for those associated with the Half-Way House, an inn that was situated nearby from the 1870s, alongside the old road from Barkly West to Kimberley. In the early it was these kraals that were provided to keep their livestock safe. twentieth century, farmers taking produce to town would overnight here, and no doubt

Station 5: Landscape Abundant wildlife once roamed these plains and the veld represented a rich source of plant foods - but rain, essentially unpredictable in this semi-arid landscape, was what made all the difference between a season that was good and one that was hard.

After good rains these pans may hold water for a few months. Perhaps this is why the kuil, or water pit, and this hill near to it, became a special place for the hunter-gatherers who lived here and made the art.

From the kukummi - or stories - of the /Xam San of the Karoo, written down in the rain-making. Water, welling up in waterholes, and falling from the sky, was linked to

1870s, we know something of the religious significance of water, of rain, and of powerful animal symbolism - rain was an animal. In rain-making rituals the mythic rain the /Xam said, from the waterhole to a hill and cut so that rain might fall. The clouds

animal was calmed with ochre or with sweet-smelling herbs called buchu, and "led", as themselves could be the embodiment of the rain animal, leaving watery "footprints" as it "she-rain", while the destructive storm with lightning was a male rain. It was in the /Xam called !Khwa-ka: xoro.

"walked" across the landscape - so they said - on "rain's legs". Soft soaking rain was a waterholes, and rivers, that there dwelt the watersnake or the rain animal which the

Station 7: A story is the wind The pans, these vast depressions in the landscape where water collects after rains, were formed over immense periods of time, in part by wind action, in the dry season, sweeping up the dust from the valley floor.

The /Xam spoke of how the wind blows dust to take away their footprints, at death - in a sense defining the passage of time, the passing of each generation. But more than this, the /Xam felt that stories were like the wind. “I feel that a story is the wind” said

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//Kabbo: “the story is wont to float along to people in another place. Then our names, invisible to them”.

passing behind the mountain’s back, pass through those people, while we ourselves are

We now approach the hill and the engravings - listening for the stories that may float
like the wind, out of a distant past.

Station 8: The hill-top engravings The most spectacular of the engravings at Wildebeest Kuil are on the central rise. Their marking on it. Eland phenomenal density is such that, in places, almost every rock has an engraving or other

The eland was a favourite animal in the rock art of South Africa - in both paintings and engravings - appearing in many majestic images. Its fat, its blood, its sweat, were all believed by the /Xam to be sources of supernatural potency called !gi. And hence in the

art the fatty dewlap below the neck is often emphasized. The shamans or medicine people in a hunter-gatherer group would, in their beliefs, harness this potency for rain; to cure the sick; to fight off the evil spirits of the dead; to visit distant relatives by out-of-body travel; or to lead faraway game closer for the hunters. entering the spirit world - during the healing dance - to lure the rain-animal to make

Variability in the art In addition to the many engravings of eland at this site, several other animals are

depicted. This is a feature that distinguishes, to some extent, engravings from paintings in South Africa: in the paintings there is often not so wide a range of animals. Another difference is that human figures are generally far more common in the paintings than they are at engraving sites. There are regional differences, too - and as one moves north

of the Limpopo, the kudu takes the place of the eland as the most commonly depicted

antelope. Different emphases are to be noted even from site to site, just here, within the challenges for researchers is to understand this rich variability.

this region around Kimberley, and between older engravings and younger ones. One of

Eland engravings Several interesting eland images occur on this site. Two appear to show the animal its potency, and through its death that potency can be harnessed by the shaman.

upside down, as if it were dead. It was said by the /Xam that in death the eland releases

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In another, the eland is headless, and was intentionally positioned at the edge of a rock

such that we can only imagine its head sticking out beyond the rock. There are other

engravings on this site of animals showing only the front part of the body and head,

almost as if they are emerging from within the rock. And there is, on another part of the site, a single eland head, engraved at the edge of a rock. In /Xam beliefs the spirit world encompassed realms above and below the earth: could it be that these features represent transitions through the spirit world? That the engravings, perhaps the rocks into the spirit world under the earth - and over it? themselves - or even the hill, clearly a very special place - were in some sense a way

Hartebeest In zoological terms, hartebeest and wildebeest belong to the same antelope subfamily; Karoo, say little about wildebeest - but they do tell of the significance of the hartebeest:

and engravings of both are found on this site. The /Xam kukummi, or stories, from the

“People say that /Kaggen, the trickster God, first made the eland; the hartebeest was one whom he made after the death of his eland. That is why he loved the eland and the the hartebeest.” In another story /Kaggen pretends to be a hartebeest lying dead in the veld. Children hartebeest not a little - he loved them dearly - for he made his heart of the eland and

find him and begin to cut him, as meat for the camp. A little girl carries the hartebeest's

head in her bag, when /Kaggen mischievously speaks to her. Frightened, she drops her piece by piece, and so the hartebeest who was dead gets up and escapes.

load, and the others drop theirs. The parts of the hartebeest re-assemble themselves,

Rhinoceros Rhinoceros, both black and white, are frequently depicted in the rock engravings of this region. The /Xam stories offer no direct insights into their meaning in rock art - but the characteristics and behaviour of these animals may provide important clues. They are large, fatty animals and can sweat profusely; moisture drops from their bodies, perhaps as one might imagine rain falling from a rain-animal... The rhinoceros is often seen wallowing at muddy pools - and is active at night - as is the mythical rain-animal of the /Xam. Like the "he-rain", moreover, the black rhinoceros is aggressive, while the other species is less so - when it features, is it perhaps symbolic of that gentler "she-rain" reverence for the ways of the animals may help us to understand. that is soft and soaking? Perhaps we shall never know for certain, but an awareness and

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Elephant Elephant feature in a few engravings at Wildebeest Kuil and some sites in the region have many such images. The /Xam stories are silent on elephant, but the folk and engravings of elephant have been interpreted as being linked with rain and with the mythical rain-animal. knowledge of the !Kung of the Kalahari attributes great potency to this animal. Paintings

The demand for ivory in the colonial era meant that this animal was rapidly hunted to region before there were written records here.

local extinction as the frontier penetrated inland. Elephant had disappeared from this

Ostrich Images of ostrich are common in rock engravings. Interestingly, depictions of other home, where his wife prepares it for a meal. She casts the feathers into a bush. But a high into the sky - and then it falls down into a waterhole. And as it lies, wet, in the

birds are quite rare. In one of the /Xam stories an ostrich is killed by a hunter and taken whirlwind comes and takes up the feathers. One little feather, with blood on it, is blown water, it turns into the flesh of an ostrich, sprouting feathers, and growing wings and and takes wives.

legs. It walks out of the water and basks in the sun. The new ostrich grows into an adult

This is a tale of transformation and about the cycle of life - and, as in other /Xam kukummi, the sky and the waterhole are key elements.

Why the engravings are here Why is it that there are so many engravings here? Not all the hills in the area have them; and sometimes sites are situated in valleys. As to why some places were chosen and others not is a challenge for researchers to ponder. But it seems that each site had a unique combination of landscape or other features that had symbolic potential - such as nearness to a waterhole, a particular kind of rock outcrop, even the presence of termite mounds could be significant - and it would appear that the art was placed to make these symbolic connections clear and to make the power of the place even stronger.

Human figures and the healing dance Human figures are less commonly shown in the engravings than animals, whereas in the paintings they outnumber animal images. There are a few human figures on this site. In one engraving a man is part of a composition that includes an elephant, where non-real

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features, such as the extension of the elephant’s trunk, with multiple lines crossing it, make it unlikely that this is a realistic scene or event, but was intended to convey symbolic meanings that we struggle to fathom.

In other engravings of human figures, it is the posture, with one hand on the hip and the other raised to the head, that provides us with a clue. It is like the hand-to-nose posture, common in rock paintings, and seen in the San healing dance, when the dancers may bleed from the nose. This is the trance dance, when shamans enter altered states of consciousness, accessing the spirit world.

In the 1830s the missionaries Thomas Arbousset and Francois Daumas, gave one of the earliest descriptions of the healing or trance dance:

“The thousand cries which they raise, and the exertions which they make, are so violent that it is not unusual to see someone sink to the ground exhausted and covered with blood, which pours from the nostrils; it is on this account that the dance is called mokoma, or dance of blood.”

In the 1870s, a young San man named Qing described a rock painting of the dance, saying:

“/Kaggen gave us the song of this dance, and told us to dance to it, and people would die from it, and he would give us charms to raise them again. It is a circular dance of men and women, following each other, and it is danced all night. Some fall down; some weak.”

become as if mad and sick; blood runs from the noses of others whose charms are

Geometric designs A small number of geometric designs were engraved at Wildebeest Kuil. There is debate

on the significance of these engravings, some of them circular with rays, others rectangular and lattice-like. Their patination, or the way they have weathered, suggests that they are of similar age to many of the animal engravings. It is possible that these consciousness, in the healing or trance dance.

engravings were inspired by the visual experiences of shamans while in altered states of

Apron Objects such as hunting equipment and bags may be associated with human figures in the rock art. Some items - for example bags - may occasionally feature by themselves. images were symbolic, but their meaning eludes us still. Similarly, loincloths and aprons are sometimes engraved individually. It is likely these

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Termite mounds The /Xam believed that locusts, and probably other insects such as termites, that come out after rain, had great supernatural potency, or !gi.

Termite mounds dot this landscape at Wildebeest Kuil. As part of their growth cycle, after rain to establish new colonies. They are also very rich in fat, and were a favourite food collected by the /Xam.

some termites grow wings and are known as alates. The alates emerge from the mounds

It could also be significant that snakes occupy empty termite mounds in the winter months: the /Xam regarded snakes, too, as rain’s “things”.

Station 10: Frontier impacts Looking eastwards again at Kimberley - its profile and its spread dominates the horizon. This was a landscape that belonged once to the San. The story of its loss, in the decades before diamonds were found, is also the story of some of the few named individuals in local Khoe-San history. It is the story of Kousop, who led a last desperate campaign to drive intruders from here in the 1850s. The tale begins in 1839 when one David

Dantsie, whose real name was De Goep, a “Korana-Bushman”, signed away, with his mark, the vast tracts for grazing between the Vaal and Modder Rivers, then known as the Middelveld. A group of white farmers paid him one riding horse and seventy fattailed sheep. In 1850, Kousop, a relative of De Goep, had letters sent to the farmers

saying that the land was his, and demanding that they quit their farms. Attempts at

pacifying him failed and in 1858 Kousop launched a series of raids on farms in the area,

including Benfontein, which lies just beyond the horizon where Kimberley now stands.

Two defenders were killed. A commando of 250 Free State burgers was raised in

retaliation, and a canon was brought from Winburg. Kousop’s hide-out on the Vaal River other Khoekhoe perished in the attack. Years later the missionaries at Pniel mentioned Kuil. The frontier was a violent place, in which the animals were victims, too; and, as people

was encircled, where he and about 130 followers, including San, Griqua, Korana and that Kousop had been a sometime resident at this “Half Way Kopje”, here at Wildebeest

converged here after the discovery of mineral wealth, the landscape was stripped of

trees for fuel, and hacked into for its gems, with pick and shovel and dynamite. have been removed from some sites, while graffiti has marred many more. Development has also impacted on heritage sites and rock art. Individual engravings

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Today we are far more conscious of how fragile our earth is. The engravings survive as

but a remnant of a rich inheritance; a reminder, as they stand silent on the hill, of how bespeak inspire us to look with new eyes on the landscape, its history, and our place within it.

much has been lost, and at what human cost. Their presence and the values they

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