Khoisan Rock Art

Khoisan (Bushman) Rock Art in the Great Karoo

20 November 2023

The Great Karoo holds a vast and ancient landscape teeming with life and history. Scattered across rocky outcrops, shallow caves, and weathered boulders, are the paintings and engravings of the Khoisan people. Their unique rock art paintings provide a glimpse into a bygone era, offering a fascinating narrative of the Khoisan way of life.

Imagine stepping back in time, long before colonial settlers stepped foot in South Africa. The Karoo teemed with life – antelope herds dotted the golden plains, rhinos lumbered through the scrub, and skilled Khoisan hunters moved in rhythm with the land. It was amidst this ancient lifestyle of survival and spirituality that the Khoisan found their artistic voice, transforming the Karoo rock faces into canvases for their stories and culture.

About the Khoisan (Khoi Khoi) Rock Art

The Khoisan people, comprising both the San and the Khoi Khoi, have a long and storied history in the Southern African region. The Khoi Khoi, also known as the Khoi, were predominantly pastoralists, skilled in herding livestock and adapting to the diverse landscapes of the Great Karoo. Their rock art, alongside that of the San, contributes significantly to our understanding of the region’s pre-colonial history.

The Khoi Khoi were known for their distinctive ways of life, characterised by a deep connection to the land and their herds. The rock art attributed to the Khoi Khoi often portrays scenes of cattle herding, communal rituals, and interactions with the natural environment. These depictions not only showcase their daily activities but also underscore the spiritual significance of the animals and the land in their cultural practices.

Khoisan Rock Art wasn’t mere decoration; it was a vibrant tapestry woven with symbols, rituals, and the very essence of their existence. The sun, a giver of life, blazed in ochre glory, while antelope, their sustenance, pranced in elegant lines. Elongated figures, perhaps shamans or ancestors, danced amongst geometric patterns, each stroke imbued with deeper meaning.

These ancient masterpieces weren’t merely admired; they were actively engaged with. Rituals and ceremonies danced beneath the painted figures, invoking the spirits and ensuring a harmonious balance with the natural world. Each brushstroke became a prayer, a whispered wish etched into eternity.

An Ancient Karoo Canvas

The rock art found in the Great Karoo spans thousands of years, providing a fascinating timeline of the Khoisan people’s existence. Some of the paintings date back to the Late Stone Age, offering a glimpse into the early societies that thrived in the region. The art evolved over time, mirroring changes in the Khoisan way of life and the introduction of new technologies and cultural influences.

Today, the Karoo Rock Art stands as a testament to the resilience and artistry of the Khoisan people. It’s a bridge between past and present, a silent symphony whispering tales of survival, spirituality, and a deep connection to the land. As we stand before these ancient masterpieces, we’re not just admiring art; we’re peering into the soul of a lost civilization, their stories etched in ochre and spirit, forever a part of the Karoo’s timeless embrace.