Meta-tourism, sense of place and the rock art of the Little Karoo

Rust, Catharine (2008-12)

Thesis (DPhil) (Geography and Environmental Studies))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.

Thesis

The subject is the rock art within the region known as the Little Karoo in the Western Cape that lies between the coastal plain and the Greater Karoo, penned in geographically by the Langeberg in the south and the Swartberg in the north. During a ten year site survey of 150 sites with rock art, content and details of the rock art images have been recorded on site forms and where possible traced on polyester film and photographed. The sites tend to be small with, on average, fewer than 50 images, but then 7 sites have more than 100 images per site. The sites are located mostly in ravines in the mountainous areas. Few sites with rock art have occupation deposits. Human figures in the rock art, predominantly male, are most commonly represented. Other images are animals, such as eland, smaller antelope, elephants, felines, canids and therianthropic figures of half-human, half-animal forms. Finger dots, handprints and geometric or non-representational marks are present in the rock art sample as well. The art can be linked to shamanistic experiences in altered states of consciousness. A number of depictions are interpreted as part of rainmaking ritual and the significance of the symbolism of water. There are resemblances in content and style to the rock art in the Hex River Valley, the Cederberg, and south of the Langeberg, on the coastal plain, but some imagery point to a variation more specific to the Little Karoo. These are rare rock art depictions of a combination of human head and upper torso with ichthyoidal lower limbs, at times reminiscent of bird-like human figures. Verbatim accounts recorded of stories and sightings of numinous watermeide (water maidens) at waterholes and rivers of the Little Karoo and correlations drawn with research on similar folklore in the Northern Cape and elsewhere make a traditional link between these regions. The myth of the watermeide takes on a therianthropic nature in form, that of half-human half-fish, reminiscent of the well-known westernized mystical concept of mermaid features; a description popular in the vernacular. The described form of the watermeid espouses a connection to the uniqueness of the rock paintings of therianthropic figures with distinctive fishtail and human shoulders, head and arms. A connection with explanatory accounts of rock paintings and folklore recorded in the Oudtshoorn district more than a hundred years ago, recorded information of stories and myths of mystical water creatures in the Northern Cape, and verbatim accounts of the watermiede, is made to suggest a basis for interpretation of the therianthropic nature of some of the rock art imagery in the Little Karoo. The rock art is produced in a space and a time frame that may be related to that of the current stories of the watermeide.

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