History tells us that long before Europeans Landed at the southern most tip of Africa, and even before the African tribes of central Africa began moving south, Southern Africa was already inhabited. The inhabitants were a race of hunter gatherers often referred to as the aboriginal race of Africa, called the San or more commonly, the Bushmen. Examples of bushman rock paintings can still be found in many areas of Southern Africa, oldest accurately dated is over 27000 years old.
The Bushmen have always been exceptional hunters and trackers. They can often follow spoor for days on end, tracking their prey. This fact did not go unnoticed. The South African Defence Force (SADF) established 31 Battalion, a unit comprising exclusively of Bushmen with white officers. When South West Africa gained independence and became Namibia, the majority of these Bushmen opted to withdraw with the SADF to South Africa. They were relocated to the Northern Cape, where many of them still remain.
Today only about 100 000 Bushmen remain, most of them located in Namibia or Botswana. Symbolism and ritual have always played a large and imported part in Bushmen culture. In the past they possessed no written language. Tradition and history was passed down by word of mouth or through their paintings. The Bushmen however, no longer inhabit the land where these rock paintings are to be found. This marginalized ethnic group were driven from their land and today sadly live in areas to which they were forcefully relocated.
In the absence of rocks to paint on, these traditional artists have recently turned to canvas and oil paints. This art is a vital key to understanding their complex symbolic rituals and ceremonies. Authentic Bushmen paintings have hit the international market with great acclaim. The beauty and rarity of this resulted in an escalating value of their work and they can be found in the collections of top museums and private collections throughout the world.
A variety of techniques and processes are used by each artist in selecting the theme and subject matter for each painting. This includes visualization, dancing and story telling. Although, at first glance, many paintings may be seen simply as records of everyday occurrences, further study reveals much deeper meaning and symbolism.
This is their story...