Frikkie was our guide on this journey into the distant past.

Once again, Frikkie is our guide on this journey into the distant past. But first we may be lucky enough to have lunch served to us in the desert on a tray of sandstone! Yes, Frikkie is full of fun, but he will also challenge you and take you as deep as you can go, so let’s go! (All the photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.)
Five thousand+ years ago, the ancestors of the Bushman painted their experiences of participating in the dimension which exists just beyond our ordinary consciousness. When they saw a wall of rock with cracks and shadows in it they saw a place where the veil between the dimensions was thin. Using music and trance dance they painted their visions deep in hidden places.  Who were these mystic people?  The Bushmen were hunter-gatherers who lived in Southern Africa for millennia but as other cultural groups moved south, they were forced to migrate into desert areas such as the Kalahari, where they adapted and survived. Their story is a tragic one, as like most indigenous cultures, they have been marginalized.  They have a very difficult time trying to survive in the culture created by modern civilization.  Their traditional life is earth-based, communal, seasonally nomadic, and they live in conscious interdependence with  what we call nature.  Their consciousness is different from ours.  For the most part, we have lost or deadened  our capacity to actively sense our interdependence with the nonhuman world, the world that exists beyond the industrial military complex we have made of the earth. A rich wonderful part of our tour with Frikkie is the opportunity to come face to face with these ancient artists through their art in the vast cathedral of the desert.  On this adventure we visit the Brandberg rock painting site, but, first a bit about how the these ancient artists accomplished their art.
There were no art stores in the desert 5,000 years ago, nor are there any art stores in Namibian deserts today. So how did these Artists come up with paints and brushes? They created paints and brushes and whatever else they needed from the world around them.  Paints came from rocks.
This is red ochre which is basically ferric oxide.  It2gs use as a color pigment predates the Bushmen.  Ochre was used by pre-historic humans up to 300,000 years ago.  Ochre is almost everywhere in the world.  The varieties of red are the longest lasting colors used in rock painting.  Ochre comes in other colors also such as browns, yellows. (Internet photo)
This is purple hematite given to me recently by my friend Penny Callmeyer who shep sssherded my book, God is a Lion to publication. Hematite is a form of iron oxide and its name means blood-red which tells you what kinds of colors of paint you can make with it.  When polished, hematite has a glassy metallic sheen.  In its natural state it looks like a rock you might find in a field.  If you scrape it against something like cement it leaves a red mark.
This is Kaolinite, one of the minerals used for white paint.  It is a layered silicate, a salt containing both silicon and oxygen.  Other sources for white include China clay and gypsum, which contains zinc oxide.  (Internet photo)
Specularite, a form of hematite, was used to make black paint, as was manganese and bone black – see below.  (Internet photo)
Burned bone, sometimes burned ivory, was also a source of black paint. (Internet photo)
Burnt umber was also used which came from minerals with iron oxide or manganese oxide.  As I was researching this part of the post and came across the words “burnt umber” it awakened a memory in me of as a child  using a crayon entitled “burnt umber.” It remains one of my favorite earth colors.  (Internet photo)
The paints were created primarily by women in a special ritual performed under a full moon.  The minerals were ground to a fine powder in a mortar (rock with a hollow), and pestle (often a strong animal bone). Bonding agents included egg white, plant saps, urine,  animal fats  and blood, usually from an antelope held sacred, such as the Eland.  Sometimes the minerals were heated which produced a darker color.  Above is a close up of a woman on a rock face.  You can see the colors from minerals mentioned above – the dark red, white and black.
Paint was applied to the rock surface using various kinds of brushes, ones made of antelope hairs, ones made by inserting a feather inside a reed. I became interested in how this would work, so I took a feather from my smudge fan and a piece of wood from the Bushman’s Candle pieces I brought home from Namibia and had fun creating my own Bushman paint brush.
To explore the mystery of the White Lady of Brandberg, we went right to the source. Brandberg means burning mountain due to the color of the rock and the color the sunset creates on it.  It is a ravine split massif of granite containing Namibia’s highest mountain.  Brandberg is a World Heritage Site as it contains one of the world’s richest galleries of ancient rock art.  On our way to Brandberg I took this photo at a distance which would allow the entire range to be seen.  Once inside the mountain range, we stayed overnight in the Brandberg lodge and started early the next morning on our quest to see the rock painting site entitled The White Lady.
This view shows the entrance into the ravine where the White Lady site is accessible by foot.


When we started our hike, I had no idea how far we had to go or what the path would be like.  In the end it took me 4 hours to make it to the rock painting site.  An able-bodied younger person would make it in maybe 1.5 hours, but I am an old lady now and not in the best shape.  I made my way around and over the rocks – but the heat from the sun that day was intense and I needed to stop and rest many times.  Because there had been unusually heavy rainfall in Namibia in recent weeks, there were rain pools all along the way.  At one point we took off our t-shirts and soaked them in a rain pool and put them back on dripping wet.  Frikkie has a way of presenting you with a challenge.  He’s always gentle about it and patient.  I appreciated the fact that it was not easy to get to this art like you do with art in a museum.  The labor purifies the spirit.
Brandberg is a national reserve and a guide is required to take you in. Meet Marcus Tariseb, a member of the Damara culture which has existed in this part of Namibia for thousands of years.  He was very knowledgeable, not only about the rock paintings, but also about the flora and fauna around us. (Frikkie’s photo)
Not long into the trek, Frikkie and Marcus spotted fresh leopard tracks most likely from earlier in the morning.  Leopards live in caves and crevices on the sides of the ravine.  When we stopped for a break, we heard a curious chirping whistle behind us.  Up on the rocks sat a Dassie, or rock Hyrax.


A Dassie is something like a prairie dog or pika. The live in colonies, and much like rodents of this type, someone  among them is always playing the role of watchdog to protect the community.  The sound we heard was a warning.  This is an internet photo because I did not get a photo of the Dassie we saw, although I have a clear memory of how he was standing  staring across the ravine sounding the alarm.  Frikkie and Marcus explained that the leopards were right across from us up in the cliffs.  Dassies are prey for leopards.  So there we were, humans, witnesses to this moment of standoff.  We studied the cliff face but could not see the leopards.  Once thing was certain though:  the leopards could see us.
As I mentioned before, it took us 4 hours to get to the White Lady cave painting site. Once we arrived, Marcus explained various things about the site.  There are two sets of paintings – some older figures were painted at least 5,000 years ago and the newer ones are estimated to be at least 2,000 years old.  It wasn’t until the late 1940’s that Europeans laid eyes on this site.  One of them, Henri Breuil, was considered an authority on rock art at the time.  There is a figure on this wall which he thought was a woman dressed in white which seemed to him at the time to be perhaps from the Minoan culture.  He was not correct in this estimation, but even so the site bears the name of the White Lady, even the current Brandberg lodge is called The White Lady Lodge.
This is my photo of the central area of the panel.  The whole panel is too wide for a single shot.  The scene is a procession of humans and animals moving in the same direction.  They appear to be striding, perhaps dancing.  The so-called White Lady is the figure to the left of the figure in red who extends a wand or stick towards the figure in white.  Below is a reconstruction of what the it must have looked like thousands of years ago before sun, wind, and time took their toll.
I borrowed this from the internet.  It is obviously not a woman, who are almost always depicted with breasts.  It is now believed that this figure is either a shaman or an initiate.
Close up photo of this figure, whom I’ll now call the White Shaman.  Because the paintings are so faded, I used my photo editing tools to try and  saturate the colors and increase the contrast.  The view above, the one just before the reconstructed figure, is what the panel looks like to the naked eye on a very sunny day.  You can see here the white marking which extends up to mid chest level as well as the band with dots. Part of the quiver can be seen over the shoulder and the outline of the bow.  In his right hand he holds what is known as a fly-whisk which was made of an animal’s tail attached to a wooden handle.  As far as we know these were used in Bushman rituals for shamanic purposes such as flicking away “arrows” of sickness in a healing trance dance.  The fly-whisk was only used on ritual occasions so its presence here indicates that such a ritual was in progress.  It may also indicated that the figure was not an initiate, but a shaman, since only shamans used the fly-whisks.
This red figure behind the White Shaman is probably also a shaman.  Notice he holds a stick in his right hand which extends to touch the White Shaman.  It is thought that he is sending spirit power to him.  The fact that both arms are elongated probably means the figure is in a trance state.    Notice the white rings around his upper arms.   I have found one guide to rock painting which I trust, because the authors consulted with modern day Bushman who still have memories of their ancient culture.  Bushman Rock Art by Tim Ferssman & Lee Gutteridge, Southbound, 2012.
Below the central White Shaman figure is this man who wears an animal mask or animal cap.  Most often these were antelope caps.  This figure is carrying sticks in both hands.  These may be digging sticks which often had a stone with a hole bored in it on one end.  We must not automatically think that this scene depicts hopes for a good hunt.  The digging sticks were spiritual tools.  To the Bushmen, a crack in a rock represented an entrance into the spirit world. The stick with a bored rock  was a metaphor for this belief.   In the background we see an animal, possibly a zebra or it could be a quagga, an extinct form of zebra.  Bushmen associate the zebra with water, especially rain, and supernatural potency.  Often the white stripes on the human figures are a form of association with the spiritual power of the zebra.  Recall the white stripes on the figure above on the band across this man’s upper back.
Here is a close up of this animal capped shaman. Aside from the possible meanings of aspects of this rock art, I want to call attention to the beauty and accuracy of the art.  The artists’ depiction of movement and bodily shape, both of humans and animals, is exquisite.  The shaman is facing forward and is in a loping position as are most of the human figures on this panel.  Look at how natural and accurate he position of the arms is and the slight turn of the neck to say  nothing of the beauty of the zebra.  I will address the animals in this art in more detail below.
Bushman tales, those transcribed from Bushman story tellers by white missionaries, teachers, folklorists, relate of an Early Time when there was no definite distinction between humans and the animals.  I believe this state of existence is somewhat analogous to the Biblical idea of  the Garden of Eden.  Even after this Early Time, it was believed that humans could transform into animals and vice versa.  This occurred during the trance dance rituals and is here depicted in the the topmost antelope above.  Notice that its hind legs are transforming into human legs. This ability to shape-shift was a spiritual power which enabled the shaman to participate in the power and magic of the animal.   These antelope may be impala.  Notice the white curved back horns on the lover one. Notice the white human in running or loping stance.  He carries sticks in both hands like the animal capped shaman above, only this figure is all white – more mystery.
This figure is painted all black and is among the oldest of the paintings on this panel.  He carries a long stick, probably a dancing stick, in his right hand and appears to have perhaps a bag under his left arm.  Males carrying bags full of goods were seen as providers and strong.
Another example of the oldest of the figures.  The taller one is a woman – you can see her breast – and she holds a stick and something else under her left arm.  I am going to hazard a guess about the smaller figure- I think it’s a child looking back at the woman.  Look at the turn of the head.
A woman painted in towards the front end of the panel in running or loping mode.  The animal above her may be an eland. One way to try and identify an antelope in a rock painting is to look at the horns if they are visible. Based on horn length this also might be a gemsbok (oryx).  One thing I’ve noticed in studying this panel and the photographs I was able to take of it, all the animals appear stationary, while all the human figures are in motion.  The humans gracefully leap forward in a dancing procession.   Another mystery to be ruminated upon. Perhaps the animals represent the spiritual potency which the humans are yearning to join. 
This beautiful antelope reminds me of a springbok except the horns are long and slanted straight back.  The horns of the springbok are curved towards each other like parenthesis.  Also mysterious – look at the hind legs – are they not more human in shape than antelope?  You can clearly see hooves on the front feet but the knees bend forward in the back and the feet do not end in hooves.  Probably a shaman transforming into an antelope.
This is a large antelope, perhaps the biggest on the panel.  I can’t make out any horns, but the neck looks bearded which may mean it’s an eland.   In the panel, this fellow is right below the Red Shaman with the long stick touching the White Shaman. The color remains vibrant after thousands of years. I could have spent thousands of hours in the presence of this ancient art, but we had to get back because the day was waning.
At my slow pace, it took us another 4 hours to climb back down that ravine.  We sat under the shade of this tree and I took this photo of the way we had come.  I felt in an almost trance state myself what with the physical exertion of the climb and descent and the glimpse beyond the veil into another dimension which our ancient forbears intimated through their use of art accompanied by dance and ritual – a timeless profound experience.
Brandberg sunset – see in it all the colors the Bushmen painted on the granite cliff side.