San rock paintings in the Cederberg

In the he(art) of the Cederberg

Whilst I read through the previous newsletter about my dad’s ‘adventurer’s route‘ through the Cederberg, I was flooded with the most wonderful memories about our family weekends in these magnificent mountains – trudging through the deep, hot white sandy track to reach the rocky trail up to the Maltese Cross, building dams in the gloriously pure (and icy!) river at Algeria until the sun set and we were called back to the caravan to be bundled up in layers of snuggly pyjamas while the braai filled the air with its aromatic smoke and shimmering sparks, and – of course – discovering the awe-igniting rock paintings hidden amongst rock formations we’d imagine were dragons, trains and human faces!

Cederberg - Algeria - CapeNature - Scott Ramsay
Quintessentially Cederberg: Algeria! Credit: CapeNature – Scott Ramsay

It was many, many years ago that my eyes last feasted upon those artfully crafted daubs and smears in earthy reds and yellow ochre, holding its stories like silent secrets away from my inquisitive quest to read them.

While I was rummaging about the Internet yesterday for photos of these San cave paintings, I stumbled upon an absolutely superbly written article by the Green Girls In Africa whose photos are some of the best I could find online. I won’t post all of them here, so head over to their article to lose yourself in the nomadic pastoralist world of the Karoo’s /Xam. (I’ll leave the link at the bottom of this post.)

… But before you read it, what can you see depicted in the dreamlike, diaphanous layers and sophisticated symbols?

San rock art painting - Cederberg - Green Girls in Africa

“Some images depict scenes of the daily life of these nomadic people, others are more metaphorical and full of spiritual symbolism.

Often the images are confusing, showing complex scenes of multi-layered paintings, a cacophony of stories told all at once, but set in different eras.” 

San rock art painting - Cederberg - Green Girls in Africa 

San rock art painting - Cederberg - Green Girls in Africa

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

As an artist, I find myself utterly gobsmacked at the sublime sophistication and purity of form, communicating speed or stillness, specificity of action (dancing, hunting), gender, role (hunter, shaman, child) and perfectly delineated animals. There’s a tenderly painted little bokkie I’ll show you just now, as well as a profoundly intriguing portrayal of ships! Considering just how very far away the Cederberg would have been for these hunter-gatherers from the ocean makes their depictions of these vast and alien European vessels that much more incredible!

Cederberg - San rock paintings - Stadsaal, Bushmanskloof and Kagga Kamma

(These are stock images from so please excuse the watermarks!)

Cederberg - rock painting of a little antelope

Cederberg rock painting of ship -

Considering the immense, irreversible impact of the Europeans on their world, it is interesting also to see how ‘Primitive Art’ changed the face — quite literally — of the European art world, pushing the centuries-long classical realism over the edge into an irrevocable, almost wild modernism we’ve thankfully never quite recovered from!

Notable 20th Century artists who drew from Africa’s art and sculpture include Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani.


  • Read the Green Girls In Africa story here
  • Find out about another rock art ship called the ‘Porterville Galleon’ by The South African here
  • Explore the Trust For African Rock Art

And for the arty-farties among you:

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