In the summer of 2001, Nelspoort school principal Laurence Rathenam decided to take some of the street children of Beaufort West in his care out into the veld.
They were pupils at his school, Restvale Primary, and staying in the hostel for a more wholesome upbringing away from street life. As they walked through the Karoo bossies and dark dolerite boulders, one of the youngsters found a rock etching of an antelope. Further on, there was another ‘mooi bokkie’.
“They have such sharp eyes. They’d call me and say: Teach, Teach, here’s another one.”
Over months and years they found rock etchings of elephants, eland, ostriches, jackals and spoor, of Voortrekker women in skirts, of locomotives, of abstract patterns and wartime graffiti. They are still finding more.
Previously, the only well-recorded rock engraving in the area was of an ancient buffalo, Pelorovis antiquus, an animal with giant horns that became extinct about 10 000 years ago.
And the street children found well-used ironstone rock gongs, which chime like church bells when struck, even with the hand. They are usually on top of hills and their sound would have carried over long distances.
Dr Sven Ouzman of Iziko Museum says: “Gong rocks let us imagine the landscape as a huge musical instrument resonant with meaning.”
Nelspoort’s rock engravings contain many layers of history. They were created by San, by Khoi, later by European settlers and sundry travellers. Among the boulders there are arrowheads, ostrich eggshell beads, old buttons and fragments from British and Boer soldiers.
Modern-day Nelspoort is a small railway village surrounded by this vast outdoor art exhibition carved on the rocks.
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