The San – known as the people of the Eland – are believed to be the group most likely to have descended from the first people to occupy Southern Africa. They have lived in the area for about 20 000 years. Their rock engravings in the Karoo, and paintings in the Drakensberg, are held in high regard throughout the world. They are unusual in their extraordinary use of colour and shading, and have an interesting 3D effect. The earliest date from about 10 000 years ago and the latest approximately 100 years ago, and reflect the spirituality of the people. The San have also attracted the attention of anthropologists and the media with their survival and hunting skills, wealth of indigenous knowledge of the flora and fauna of Southern Africa, and their rich cultural traditions.
A very spiritual people, with complex beliefs, they believed that as the Eland died it released supernatural energy that could be harnessed by their dancers, enabling them to enter the spirit world for a short time. The dance, during which the dancers went into a trance, was known as ‘the dance of death, the dance of life’. Whatever one thinks of the belief it is another indication of humankinds continual reaching out not only for truth but for a life beyond that which it knows, a life that reaches into the deep longings of the spirit, which are not satisfied physically or materially.
The Southern African San is one of the many exhibits at the Origins Centre in the grounds of Wit University. The development of the centre followed on an initiative by then President Thabo Mbeki for the development of South African rock art sites for the benefit of the country. Designed by the architects of the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Memorial it is one of a new generation of museums. It makes very good use of modern technology, there are a number of explanatory screen productions showing all the time, the extensive displays of rock art are accompanied by clear drawings and explanations, together with deeply relevant and moving work by South African artists. It all looks into the origins and journey of people from pre-history through to the current era.
Available to every visitor is a hand-held audio machine that gives more information on each exhibit. There are also monitors with relevant computer games for young people as well as other displays and information. And for those of you who are as challenged as I am – you have to touch the screen to make something happen. I expected to have the security guards racing towards me as I prowled around looking for a switch! Fortunately, I used my hand before trying to speak to it!
The tour ends in a small shop with a good selection of books relevant to the exhibitions, and some items mainly of interest to tourists. There is an attractive restaurant in the complex with seating inside and under umbrellas in the open. The menu is good and, although my omelette was slightly over – cooked, the food was well presented and tasty. The service was friendly and quick.
Allow three hours for an unhurried tour and a little something at the restaurant. The website is very good and worth a visit. It also contains information of times and costs, as well as forthcoming exhibitions and talks.
Take time to look at people and nature – they both tell a wonderful story
Address: University of the Witwatersrand, Yale Road, Braamfontein
Win tickets to Stargazing at Maropeng
The Joburg team has tickets for Journey to the Moon. You could win tickets for two people to this event and all you need to do is email Shaun. Include all your contact information. One entry per person. Entries close on Wednesday, 21st July 2010. Prize is not transferable. Winners must be able to attend the Stargazing evening on Saturday, 24th July, 2010. Good luck!