Posts Tagged With: Jonas Tlouamma

Marks from the Past at Makgabeng: Part 2

If you would like to read Part 1 of this series, click here

It’s Saturday 7th December 2013 and Petra and I have left the Makgabeng Lodge en route to our meeting on the mountain. We are heading in the general direction of the plateau, when Petra confesses that she is not absolutely sure where to go, but knowing that she is strongly intuitive, I spur her on, trusting that we will find our way. As we get closer to the sandstone cliffs, the red sand on the track is getting a whole lot softer and deeper, and Petra engages low gear, puts her foot down and we swerve and grind our way to higher, firmer ground. After taking a couple of wrong turns, we are confident that we are now on the right track, and as we make our way up through a gap in the hillside, we leave the valley behind.

Approaching the Makgabeng Plateau

Approaching the Makgabeng Plateau

As we reach the level of the top of the ridge, the landscape opens up to a completely different scene. Hidden beyond the rest of the world are small farm plots, scattered amongst the most spectacular, imposing domes of layered sandstone rocks. I feel that we have entered a sacred space, a place only known to the few who live here, and maybe a few lucky researchers who have been up this way to view the jewels that it holds.

An agricultural Eden on top of the Makgabeng Plateau

The Makgabeng Plateau

In every direction there are incredible mounds of rock

In every direction there are sculptured rock massifs

Not sure which way we are going, we make a stop at a homestead, situated at the foot of an impressive mountain peak. Fortunately we have found Jonas’s relatives who soon show us the way to his house at the base of the Thabananthlana peak. He is ready and waiting, eager to show us his playground amongst these spectacular rocks.

Jonas's family live at the base of the peak of Thabananthlana

Jonas’s family live close to the peak of Thabananthlana

Twenty minutes later, squatting on my haunches under a rock overhang, I am completely immersed in a world of trance dances, shamans and n/om (understood to be similar to chi or the life force).  For the first time, I am getting a fuller, clearer understanding of what these finely executed paintings on the rock wall above me, are all about. Suddenly it all makes sense, and as our guide, Jonas Tlouamma, describes the transfer of power from the dying eland to the one who drinks the blood, I am with him and can imagine this power he speaks of. He is mesmerizing to listen to, and speaks of these trance events with a passionate and eloquent  conviction. I realize how fortunate I am to be sitting here with him, as Jonas knows these hills intimately, having explored every inch of them on foot, and being largely responsible for finding and documenting most of the many hundreds of San, Khoekhoe and Northern Sotho sites that remain in this area. He worked for many years alongside Ed and Cathelijne Eastwood as they gathered information that culminated in the writing of their book Capturing the Spoor. Jonas is a master storyteller, but it is his vast knowledge of the area and it’s previous inhabitants that is the most impressive. He is passionate about his work and clearly enjoys sharing what he knows. I am enthralled and so grateful to him for making this such an adventure.

Jonas explains the meaning behind the beautifully executed San rock art

Jonas explains the meaning behind the beautifully executed San rock art

San rock art in the Makgabeng Plateau

San rock art in the Makgabeng Plateau

The animal on the left emerges from a crack in the rock, which according to Jonas suggests that it comes from the spirit world.

The animal on the left emerges from a crack in the rock, which according to Jonas suggests that it comes from the spirit world.

What makes Makgabeng such a remarkable rock art site, is that it has good examples of three clearly identifiable layers of history, with visual documents from the San, the Khoekhoe and the Northern Sotho all in the same area. In many cases they overlap and interlock, making it all the more fascinating. When inquiring about who came first to this area, I am told that the San arrived first, then the Khoekhoe, but that there was a long period of overlap and interraction, shown by the fact that in some cases the San art appears below the Khoekhoe and in other places it’s on top. The Northern Sotho arrived some time later.

This is the terrain in which these hundreds of rock art sites are hidden

This is the terrain in which these hundreds of rock art sites are hidden

After listening to Jonas’s account of the San, whose delicately painted works are fairly well known and recognized, I am eager to see what other sites there are and whether there is any variation to this theme and style. We walk a short distance over flat expanses of rocks and descend into a shady stream bed, before climbing up a steep and overgrown pathway to a well hidden overhang. As I push past the last bush, I gasp not only for breath, of which I am extremely short, but from amazement at the scene that lies before me. A rock overhang covered with white drawings. This I am told, is a Northern Sotho female initiation site. The drawings are predominantly white and have obviously been executed with fingers, as the lines are much thicker than those fine line brush paintings of the San.  Much of the imagery in this and other sites appears to connect to female fertility, with the women’s aprons in various forms featuring very strongly.

Jonas explains the meaning of the symbols at this predominantly Khoekhoe rock art site

Jonas explains the meaning of the symbols at this predominantly Northern Sotho rock art site

This rock overhang contains clear finger painted images of women's aprons

This rock overhang contains clear finger painted images of women’s aprons

Making our way down through thick bush after viewing the viewing the Khoekhoe artwork

Making our way down through thick bush en route to the next site

We return to the car and after a short drive, park in the bush and follow Jonas through the dense undergrowth. I am entranced by the beauty around and above me, particularly the towering rock face that looms overhead, and am completely unaware that we are within metres of a major South African rock art site.

We are about to enter one of the most amazing overhangs that I have ever seen

We are about to enter one of the most amazing overhangs that I have ever seen

Before I know it, we have entered a cool rock overhang and Jonas has seated himself at the base of a frieze of dramatic protest art. He is watching for my reaction, and all I can say is ‘Wow!!!’ I have never seen anything like this before and take a moment to let it sink in. The graphics are incredible, with trains, railway lines and station intersections, along with wagons, people on horses and men standing rigid with shoulders hunched. The lines are thick, suggesting they were painted with fingers and the white pigment stands out in stark contrast to the ochre red sandstone walls.

Jonas relaxes beneath a frieze of Northern Sotho protest art

Jonas relaxes beneath a frieze of Northern Sotho protest art

A detail of the train taking the captives to jail in Pretoria

A detail of the train that has taken the captives to jail in Pretoria

Petra listens to Jonas as he explains the meaning of the artwork

Petra listens to Jonas as he explains the meaning of the artwork

A depiction of Boers, with a woman and child

A depiction of Boers, with a woman and child in the mid section

The overhang viewed from the far side

The overhang viewed from the far side

So who painted these images and what are they all about?

Jonas tells us that this mural is the work of the Northern Sotho or the Hananwa and documents the story of the Maleboho war of 1894. During this period, the Boer republic under Paul Kruger was in need of land and cheap labour for the mines, so in order to force people off the land and into the mines to earn money, a hut tax was instituted. Chief Maleboho, leader of the Hananwa, refused to pay, and Kruger gathered his forces together and attacked the Hananwa.
For many months Maleboho was able to hold out against the Boer forces, despite increasingly vicious tactics, which included the seizing of Hananwa cattle and the burning of their houses.
When it became clear that it was necessary, Maleboho headed to the hills for safety, but eventually hunger and thirst forced him to surrender and Maleboho and his men were loaded onto a train and taken to Pretoria, found guilty in a military court and jailed. In 1900 the British forces took Pretoria and in recognition of Maleboho’s valiant fight, he and his men were released and their land returned.
The whole story is documented on these rocks, beginning with scenes of armed men on horseback firing their weapons, and ending with Maleboho and his men being locked up in a Pretoria jail and the train leaving them behind. Central to the scene are railway lines going off in various directions and a very impressive train, which has so much movement it’s quite riveting to observe.

The telling of the story is very powerful and I sit there in silence for a while trying to absorb it, when Jonas suggests I have a closer look to see if I can find something else of interest. I inspect the wall, feeling the pressure of trying to find something I cannot see, with Jonas smiling knowingly in the background. Then to my delight, I see it! Beyond the layer of strong white marks of the resistance art, lie the tell tale delicate lines of the San. Men with bow and arrows, domestic animals which look like sheep and cattle, and the unmistakable stripes of zebra.

Fine depictions of animals, painted by the San

Fine depictions of domestic animals, painted by the San

San drawings of men with bows and arrows

San drawings of men with bow and arrows

I am completely blown away by this mountaintop gallery, and feel so filled to capacity that I can understand why it’s not possible to visit any more sites today. With almost a thousand sites to see, there is plenty of reason to return here someday.

We bid a fond farewell to our guide and teacher, the one and only Jonas Tlouamma, and criss-cross our way back across the plateau before descending into the valley.

On our way home, before leaving the village of Senwabarwana (previously Bochum), Petra pulls up alongside some deserted houses. This place, she tells me, is the original leper colony, started by Lutheran missionary and nurse, Helene Franze, over a hundred years ago. The houses are all empty, but interestingly have all their doors and windows in tact. Nothing appears to have been tampered with, and as we walk around from house to house the atmosphere is so eery and full of sadness that it forces me to wonder about the poor souls who once lived here, locked away from the outer world. One wonders what stories they could tell upon their cold cement walls.

The deserted leper colony at Bochum

The deserted Helene Franze leper colony at Senwabarwana

So here we have one more layer of history. I have so much to think about as we wend our way home, but one thing is clear that these layers and layers of silence have left me wanting to know more.

Surely if we can access and acknowledge the past, we can appreciate and live more fully in the present and make better informed decisions in the future?

Categories: Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Marks from the Past at Makgabeng: Part 1

So here we are, Petra and I, on the next stage of our adventure. We have rested for a few days and are now en route to the Makgabeng Plateau, situated near the Blouberg Mountains of Limpopo Province. Petra is on the phone to Jonas Tlouamma, making an arrangement to meet him this afternoon. It is Friday 6th December, the day after our beloved Madiba passed away. We have been completely out of television contact since we heard the news, and our experience of his passing is felt rather than seen. As we travel towards the Blouberg Mountains, I am reflecting on how I came to be in this country, and feel gratitude for this friend, this place and all the people who live here. What an interesting, complex society we have and what a beautiful country we live in.

So while the rest of the world is glued to the television screen, Petra and I are out here, immersed in the physical African experience, and I am excited and can’t wait to see where we are going. The name  ‘Makgabeng’ is new to me, but I love the physical act of saying it. It rolls off the back of the upper palate, a bit like a cat sounds when it hisses. Further to this, I am intrigued to know why Petra has been so adamant that we should visit this place. She knows that I am going to love it, and to make sure that we have time for a full experience, she has booked us in to the Makgabeng Farm Lodge for the night, which means that we have the whole of tomorrow to fully engage with whatever it is we are going to see.

Petra and Jonas have hatched a plan and know where they are taking me. We meet up with him as arranged and decide to spend the afternoon exploring the village, visiting the people and getting an idea of the lay of the land.

The landscape surrounding the village of Blackhills is fairly flat, and is a typical rural scene, with cattle, goats and donkeys grazing the verges along the road. However, the first hint of what is to come is the range of interesting looking, flat topped hills towards which we are traveling. This must be the plateau.

The road to Makgabeng

The road to Makgabeng

Colourful homesteads at the base of the mountains

Colourful homesteads at the base of the mountains

Our first stop is to visit the ruins of a house once occupied by a member of the Berlin Mission Society, a group who from 1870, were stationed on a farm called Leipzig not far from here. It’s hardly surprising that this site was selected for a house, as it backs onto the impressive range of hills, with a commanding view over the landscape below.

The ruins of a house that once belonged to a member of the Leipzig Mission Station

The ruins of a house that once belonged to a member of the Leipzig Mission Station

From here, we move back down into the village of Blackhills, where Jonas has arranged for us to visit some members of the local community. He knows that I am an artist, interested in design, so has specially selected a home that he believes will interest me. He is right, it is absolutely beautiful, recently painted in preparation for the holiday festivities.

A homestead in the village

A homestead in the village

The home owners are warm and welcoming and proudly show us around their property. The neighbours pop over the fence and invite us to visit them too…

It has been an interesting afternoon and when we make our way back to the car, we find we are followed by dozens of inquisitive neighborhood children

Village children

Village children

So where are we off to now? Jonas has a twinkle in his eye and is on his cell phone making arrangements for us to visit a local potter. He rightly guesses that I am a sucker for beautiful handcrafts. We pull up outside another homestead and are welcomed by a young man who indicates that we should follow him to the side of the house. My heart leaps with delight as I see hundreds of beautiful clay pots carefully arranged on display underneath the mango tree.

Pots for sale under the mango tree

Pots for sale under the mango tree

Now how is a lady to decide which pot to take?

Now how is a lady to decide which pot to take?

Easy! Just take them both

Easy! Just take them both.

It’s been a fun and interesting afternoon, but time has gone by quickly and we still have to find our way to the lodge, so we bid Jonas farewell and arrange to visit him tomorrow at his home on top of the plateau . He has promised to give us a glimpse into his world up there, and I am filled with anticipation.

Back on the road, we make our way towards the village of Bochum, where we enter the Makgabeng Farm Lodge just as the sun is beginning to set over the majestic sandstone cliffs that mark the edge of the plateau.

Our view of the Makgabeng Plateau from the lodge

Our view of the Makgabeng Plateau from the lodge

Tomorrow is another day and I have much to look forward to. The night is still and dark, the sky filled with stars. Ignoring the TV set that is provided in every room, I lie back on my bed and relax, wanting to savor the peace and quiet of the bush. I am thinking of all I have seen and done today, sifting through the kaleidoscope in my mind, when through the silence of the night I hear the distant drone of CNN reminding me that Mandela has gone.

Categories: Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.