Where on Earth?! South Africa

"Prancing Eland" ©Terry Woodall

By mid-day the Southern sun at its height found us at ever higher altitudes, with distant pinnacles towering to ten thousand feet. Rocky rubble, slides and precarious cliff edges punctuated the switch backing trail, which occasionally dived deep under ledges, revealing caves pungent with recent primate activity.

Our young guide Raymond proudly pointed out his village far below and away, caught in one of the continuous folds of the lower grassy ridges. At my side, Carlin engaged him with queries as our daughter Astra and her husband Toby surged ahead with their enthusiasm for mountain trekking. From a world unfamiliar to us, Raymond revealed his ambitions for college, but lamented that none of his many, many sisters could even attend school. Their traditions required that they stay working in the household until marrying and establishing their own family.

Young Raymond waved upwards towards the very top of the precipice, and our eyes followed a solid rock wall of ledges to a gaping maw and our destination. As we scrambled up the final ascent, muddy runoff from the caves complicated the remainder of the trail. Throwing ourselves over the final steep cliff edge and scrambling upward, a wondrous world unfolded.

A sea of red and white elands migrated across the face of a cave wall twenty feet across, with human figures arched above and beyond these antelope in a maze of activities. Broken by rock outcrops, three such walls formed this art gallery of the ancients that was fittingly known as Game Pass Shelter.

The ritualistic paintings were created by the San peoples thousands of years past, with the eland, largest of the world’s antelope, at center stage. This is not surprising, as these people were surrounded by herds of these life sustaining animals since time immemorial.

The complex polychrome images also included eland blood mixed in the ocher, imbibing the spirit of the animal onto the cave wall in an ultimate expression of the artist-shaman.  The “trance dance” rituals of these ancients led them into a spirit world through the hypnotic effects of collective circular dance, also depicted in the paintings.

Herds of elands in this vicinity still follow the age old seasonal migrations from lowest to the highest elevations of this Drakensberg range. However, they were nowhere to be seen on these slopes cooking in the afternoon sun, which even drove the prolific baboons into hiding.

Later, these antelope giants presented themselves as we hiked along a cool mountain stream to a waterfall in this rooftop of the continent, and at the very southerly continental tip, where they were grazing on the scruffy, rocky terrain forming the Cape of Good Hope.

Where on Earth?!   Kamberg, South Africa

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