The Ochre Trail offers access to San rock painting sites situated in the magnificent mountains of the Hex River Valley an easy 75 minute drive from Cape Town.
"The Ochre Trail"
Hex River Valley
The Ochre Trail, that offers visitors access to one of the invaluable San Rock painting heritage sites, is situated in the magnificent mountains of the Hex River Valley an easy 75 minute drive from Cape Town.
The sites are situated in pristine fynbos vegetation, with spectacular views of the mountains and vineyards. An experienced guide, Louise Brodie, offers a personalised guided tour of the sites and provides amplification of the rock art images and background information about the San people. A superb lunch is served in the farmhouse after the tour. This tour would be a day trip, departing from Cape Town at 7h30 and returning after lunch. It does involve some climbing and walking over fairly rugged terrain. Comfortable walking shoes and some degree of fitness is recommended.
This rock art was done by the iXam, the southern branch of the San tribe of hunter-gatherers that have inhabited Southern Africa since the most ancient of times. Most of the paintings are considered to be between 7,000 and 2,000 years old.
Their spiritual beliefs are based on the concept of Shamanism. To induce an altered state of consciousness in order to better access the unconscious or spirit world, the tribe danced, clapped hands and sang for extended periods, and thus induced a trance state. The images that the shamans saw in these trance states were considered to be connections between them and their environment. During these trances, they believed that the shamans acquired supernatural powers with which they could harness the potency of their natural surroundings, especially the animals, to ensure a positive outcome to their needs. These included healing the ill, contact with the spirit world and making rain.
Once the shaman had returned to normal consciousness, the images of the trance were recorded on the rock face. They would often choose a site that resonated with a strong echo that amplified the sounds of the trance dancing, singing and clapping. The iXam also believed that this magnified the potency of the images that they painted. Some of the images depict theriomorphic images of the shaman assuming a half animal, half human form.
Eland are one of the most common painted subjects as this species was viewed as a source of magic potency. When shot with a poisoned arrow, the eland’s hair stood on end, it sweated profusely, quivered and bled through the nose, a very similar physiological response to a shaman entering a trance.
For the San, these paintings were religious icons that radiated powerful numinous energy, and even as the secrets of the San are uncovered, the paintings are disintegrating and disappearing. They are eroded by natural forces and are being destroyed by vandals that deface the rock art. Unfortunately, these archaeological treasures are not receiving the necessary funding for their preservation from the government.
Visiting a rock art site allows the visitor be in the presence of the iconography of the San, to bear testament to their depiction of the spirit world and to pay homage to an ancient people now extinct.
Contact information: Louise Brodie
Tel: 023 357 9795 / Cell: 083 628 7889 / Fax: 023 357 9689
Tours will be organised with the Congress Tour operator if groups of people are interested in visiting this site. Please see website.