The story goes that some years before 1936, when it was legal to hunt the indigenous hunter-gatherer people of Southern Africa, there remained only one rock painter who still knew the secrets to preparing the paint. An old historian learned of the rock artist and – realising what was at stake – frantically began searching for him.
Finally, after many years, the historian learned the real location of the rock artist and departed immediately.
Exhausted from many days of hard travel, the old man found the rock artist at the entrance of an isolated cave – shot dead by hunters only hours before – his paint and tools on his person, their secrets as silent as stone.
I am not sure if this story of the last rock artist reached me as legend, fiction, pourquoi tale or real historical event. I have, quite honestly, never felt the need to verify the facts. It is, for all practical purposes, just a story. I tend to agree with Philip Pullman when he said: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Before I heard the story I never knew, or even considered for a second, that something as primitive or seemingly simple as the paint of rock artists, could be as great a mystery to our (arrogant) modern society as the great abyss.
Did I, by not ever considering the possibility of its complexity and sacredness, show just as much ignorance as these men who hunted down and killed what is irreplaceable ?
Honestly? Most certainly.
I can never look at rock art without imagining a man lying outside a cave, his body as still as the artworks on the rock surface above and around him. I imagine a single trickle of blood tracing from the inside of his ear to his neck, the mysterious techniques forever lost together with his life.
Makgabeng is a magical area in the northern part of South Africa with over 700 rock art sites in its basin. When I visited Makgabeng Farm Lodge as part of the #limpopogoodness video campaign last year, I was lucky enough to visit three.
It really was a most wondrous experience. The plateau is wilderness in every way.
Unfortunately a Canadian mining company, Platinum Group Metals Ltd., has announced that they have discovered platinum, gold and palladium in a uniquely rich mixa/strata below the Makgabeng plateau.
What is it that helps us to convince ourselves that mining in an area such as this – filled with more mystery, the irreplaceable and knowledge we cannot begin to comprehend – is a good idea?
How do we define the importance of something? What do we consider ‘irreplaceable’ and what exactly are we not willing to lose permanently?
The landscape, scarred by prospection, made me wonder: If we have lost the ‘recipe’ for rock paint as the story suggests, what else have we lost due to ignorance and carelessness? Do we lose things out of sheer stupidity or because we simply do not care?
So much of the past has been lost to keep the present carefree. I consider the possibility that traditional structures give greater order in civilisation and that indigenous knowledge allowed a greater appreciation for the natural world.
Beyond its caves, the reflective journeys and the threatening presence of mining, the Blouberg area has some of the most beautiful arts and crafts. Here, there are definitely no ‘established art routes’ or ‘curio shops’, but this is exactly where the authenticity of the experience lies: you will talk to people and you will arrive at the home of the artist – allowing you to support their art directly and returning with a piece of memorabilia that has a real sense of place and memory associated with it.
There are several places to stay in the area, but possibly most reputable for its positive impact on the local community and heritage conservation is the Makgabeng Farm Lodge. Fortune and Lorraine are hands-on owners that carefully maintain an interwoven existence with the pulse of the area’s heritage and environmental conservation. They believe that marketing the rich heritage of the destination as a tourism attraction will prove that a land is worth so much more than its mineral rights.
In all my years of travelling the many corners of this country, I never made it to this part of the Limpopo province before.
I cannot recommend strong enough adding this road-less-travelled to your GPS maps!
(You might feel that it is bit moer-en-gone in the middle of somewhere and nowhere, but that, I assure you, is exactly what will let you leave with a heart heavy from a memorable reminder of what is truly important to consider every day: what is irreplaceable from the things we are losing?)
You can contact Makgabeng Farm Lodge directly should you wish to explore this hidden gem in South Africa.
Words: Daréll Lourens
Pictures: OneTwoDee Productions
INSPIRED FOR MORE?
Read more of Daréll’s contributions to the weekly The Good Holiday #tuesdaytravelstory |
Lisa Martus has shared her experience in Makgabeng some time ago – learn more about the Archaeology of the area |
Join The Peace Foundation in the appeal against mining in the area |