Information and history

ID #1045

Heirs of the Drakensberg, Chrissiesmeer, Drakensberg, Southern Mpumalanga.

The San (Bushmen) inhabited the Drakensberg for thousands of years.  A natural fortress, it protected them from invaders.  The walls of the caverns and shelters provided a natural canvas on which to express themselves. There are more than 550 such sites, which compare favourably with those in France and Spain. Because of this unique heritage, the Drakensberg has been nominated as a World Heritage site.

What happened to the creators of this remarkable display?

During the course of the 19th century they resorted to raiding the cattle and horses of both black and white farmers, who retaliated by organising punitive expeditions to recover their stolen livestock and to eradicate the Bushmen.  In 1879, they made a last desperate stand when they assisted their ally and protector, the Baphuti chief Moorosi, to defend his mountain stronghold against British and colonial forces.  It was a massacre, and the chief lost his head for his daring.  Those Bushman (Bushman) that escaped were assimilated into surrounding African groups.  A few were glimpsed wandering about the cliffs and crags of the Drakensberg for a few years thereafter, lingering about their old dead hearths, reluctant to leave their home.  Then they too simply vanished.

Anthropologist Frans Prins discovered some old German documentation that revealed that some left the foothills of the Central Drakensberg in Kwa-Zulu Natal after Moorosi’s defeat in 1879.  The documents are the memoirs of Father Filter who was a transport rider between Natal and the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga). He described two groups of Bushmen – the “black” Bushmen of Natal and the “yellow” Bushmen of Lesotho.  They travelled together, finally reaching Chrissiesmeer. He knew them well, transporting them on his ox-wagon at times.  It appears that their choice of destination was based on long-standing trade relations with Bushmen resident in the area.

The landscape at Chrissiesmeer contrasts with the monotonous khaki of the Drakensberg. It covers an amazing array of natural and cultural riches.  The rocky overhangs provided safe havens for these incorrigible wanderers. Even the pans provided shelter from marauding Swazi impi and Boer commandos. Tradition has it that by they were able to escape by remaining submerged for hours while breathing through reed pipes.

Ethnologists have known of a small Bushman (Bushmen) community at Lake Chrissie but it was not realised that they were the last remnants of the painters of the Drakensberg.  Even in 1955 it was thought that the present generation was the last. However, almost half a century later Frans Prins found that there were almost 50 Bushmen living in the area, most of whom were children. They have been farm labourers on sheep farms for almost five generations and have lost all links with their rich cultural heritage. Their Xegwi language has been forgotten except for two old men who can still remember fragments of this quaint “click” speech. They remember stories about their forefathers painting on the rocks and hunting with bows and arrows. But they have no idea how to do so themselves. However they still regard themselves as Bushmen. They refer to their small physique and slanted eyes in differentiating themselves from their Swazi neighbours. Interestingly, the Drakensberg Bushmen are the smallest of any racial group in the world.  They are even shorter than the pygmies of the Congo.

Chrissiesmeer is on the N17 northeast of Ermelo, which is at the intersection of the N2 with the N11 and the N17. Close to the Oshoek border post with Swaziland.  AAHeirs

Contct:         Ane Steinberg
Box 20 Chrissiesmeer 2332
+27 (17) 847 0051 telephone and fax
+27 (82) 804 1771 cell Ane

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Last update: 2014-05-14 01:35
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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