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San Rock Art at Pafuri, South Africa


An exemplary collection of San rock paintings has been discovered nestled into the sandstone cliffs along the Luvuvhu River in northern Kruger Park. The paintings have been dated and are found to be approximately 2000 years old. The San people were the first modern humans to settle in the South African Lowveld about 118,000 years ago. Approximately 2,000 years ago, the San came into contact with iron-age, pastoralist Bantu tribes who were migrating south through the continent. It was during this time of transition that the rock art at Pafuri was created.

The Pafuri paintings were executed on a sandstone overhang and consist of three discernible images: an eland, a jackal-like creature and a therianthropic being - an animal figure with human characteristics. It is believed that the images represent the "healing dance" ritual of the San culture.

To the San, the eland was thought to have been sent as a gift to the people from the spiritual realm. The fat and meat, as well as the hide were used by the San for nourishment and practical applications, but the most important substance obtained from the eland was Nom, or "spirit of potency". When a hunted eland was in the process of dying it was thought to release Nom, which was then utilized by San shamans, the "owners of energy" during a trance dance that catapulted them into the spiritual realm.

The Nom purportedly entered the shaman's body through an incision scar made at the back of his neck known as the N/ao. It would then travel down his spine and into his stomach where it would "boil" and then shoot up into the shaman's head, sending him into the spiritual domain. From this sacred space the shaman possessed the power to heal suffering tribespeople, elicit relief from rain beings in times of drought, and visit deceased ancestors in a parallel world. It is widely accepted that the therianthropes depicted in San rock paintings signify the shamans during the "healing dance" ritual.

The revelation of rock art at Pafuri is both exciting and promising, suggesting that there are likely more paintings scattered throughout the Makuleke concession awaiting discovery.

Those wishing to visit the San rock art sites in the Makuleke concession can lodge in luxury at Pafuri Camp.

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