Post by Willie for Notes from Africa
Another fascinating place in Namibia is the Brandberg Mountain. Situated in the north-western area of the Namib (Damaraland), the Brandberg Massif is a granite intrusion which forms a dome-shaped massif. It is huge covering approxing 650 km², with its highest point being at 2573 metres (8442 feet) about sea-level. On a clear day it can be seen towering over the Namib gravel plains from a great distance. You can read more about its geology here.
The name Brandberg is Afrikaans, Dutch and German for ‘Fire Mountain’, which comes from its glowingcolour which is sometimes seen in the setting sun. The Damara name for the mountain is Dâures, which means ‘burning mountain’, while the Herero name, Omukuruvaro means ‘mountain of the Gods’.
Besides being an impressive structure, the area around the Brandberg mountain has some other unique features. The desert flora here (including aloe and euphorbia species) has to survive in the extreme climatic conditions. There are 11 plant taxa which are endemic to the Brandberg. The area is uninhabited and wild, and although there is a large diversity of wildlife, animal populations are small because of the lack of water. This area is known for the desert elephants. Although we never saw any while we were there, we were reminded that they roamed these parts by road signs such as the one below. Having lived in Southern Africa my whole life, a sign like this is not a common occurrence outside of a wildlife reserve.
Most rock art sites in Namibia are located along the country’s broken longitudinal escarpment. Hunter-gatherers set out from these sites into the desert during the brief and unpredictable summer rains. A pattern of social aggregation and dispersal became established during the last 5 000 years, as a finely tuned human response to increasing aridity.
The Brandberg is a significant spiritual site to the San (Bushman) tribes. In the Tsisab Ravine at the foot of the mountain, there are more than 1000 rock shelters, with more than 45 000 rock paintings [Wikipedia]. The most well-known of the rock paintings is The White Lady, which is a major tourist attraction at Brandberg.
The subject in this iconic painting has been the source of controversy for quite some time. From analogies to paintings of athletes in Crete, travelers from the Mediterainean area, as well as being Phoenician in origin. The commonly accepted explanation of the painting is as follows.
It is usually assumed that the painting shows some sort of ritual dance, and that the “White Lady” is actually a medicine man. She has white legs and arms, which may suggest that his body was painted or that he was wearing some sort of decorative attachments on his legs and arms. He holds a bow in one hand and perhaps a goblet in the other. Because of the bow and the oryxes, the painting has also been interpreted as a hunting scene.
I was lucky enough to visit the location of The White Lady at the cave known as “Maack Shelter”. You have to go with a guide who gets you there and back and tells you about the interesting scenery on the walk to the Maack Shelter. It certainly is still a wilderness area – we were the first ones up the path that morning and found some fresh leopard spoor (tracks) along the way.
The paintings are now protected but you can get close enough to take some photographs of the large panels depicting Oryx and the shaman.
There are many interesting sections to this mural.
The guide also showed me some paintings closer to the car park, but the quality was not the same as the those at Maack Shelter.
“The bushmen artists ground iron-rich rock (Hematite) for their red paint; ochre for the yellows; charcoal and manganese for the black; calcium carbonate for the white. Blood serum, egg white and casein were used as binding agents” [Namibia 1-on-1]. It is amazing to think that paint with a binding agent of blood and or egg white could lasts thousands of years.
For the preservation of the other paintings access to many areas on the mountain is limited. There must be many more amazing rock paintings on this mountain.
This post is part of a series I will be publishing about our travels through Namibia.