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Bushman (San) Rock Paintings: Michelangelo’s Inspiration?

When we began planning the Durban leg of our trip, we knew nothing about the rock paintings at Giant’s Castle but once we did, they quickly became a must-see.

Created approximately 5,000 years ago by the first known inhabitants of South Africa, the Bushman or San people, and most of it located in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, they are the largest group of rock paintings to be found south of the Sahara.

We arrived at Giant’s Castle just before the mid-afternoon tour would begin and nearly had to sprint to the Main Cave, about a 30 minute hike from the Visitor Center. We were met by our guide, who told us his name was “Charles, Prince Charles.”

We couldn’t help laughing.

Prince Charles told us the story of the San people and the history of the paintings, as much as had been gathered from research. Signs like this provided additional background.

Main Cave
Replica of a San village

I had expected that we’d be going to an underground cave to see the drawings. Instead, these were right there on the overhanging rocks and exposed to the elements. However, a barrier now surrounds the rocks to prevent people from getting too close to deface them.

Drawings at Giant’s Castle
San (Bushman) Drawings
More San (or Bushman) paintings

The drawings represent a rich historical record of daily life — some show animals (eland, buffalo, etc.), children, men with spears, groups of women, etc. They were made from a mixture of grounded colored stone which was held together with fat and rubbed onto the rock. But they weren’t done just willy nilly. Specific areas of the rocks were chosen to lend depth and contrast. I was surprised that after so many years, the colors remained so vibrant.

There are 500 known areas of San drawings in the uKhahlamba Drakensburg Park, which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage Site.

At the end of the tour, which lasted about 30 minutes, we spent some time photographing the drawings and learning Zulu words from Prince Charles. An amiable man, he told us he had been a guide at the cave for nearly 30 years and was looking forward to retirement.

I wondered what it was like for Charles being there every day. Between tours, it is a peaceful place, with only the sound of an occasional bird, but I got the sense that there were people all around.

with Prince Charles

When it was time to return, Prince showed us a different way back. While the route to the cave was a punishing climb over rocks, up inclines, over streams, and a path in some places, just wide enough for one person, the return was a breeze. And the view was breathtaking.

Taking the scenic (and leisurely) route with our guide, Don
Giant’s Castle Sign

A reminder that this is a Heritage Site.

By the time we returned to the Visitor Center, it was time for a relaxing lunch. We left Giant’s Castle for the 4 hour ride back to Durban. It was our last full day in KwaZulu Natal.

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