Heritage treasure, Bushman Rock art at Free State National Botanical Garden
A boulder containing Bushman (San) rock art is on display in the Garden. The pecked engravings depict animals closely associated with rainmaking in San culture.
History of the boulder
According to the Rock Art Department Site Database, the boulder was first found at the base of an unnamed hill within the reserve. The boulder was located in an area that was blown up by British soldiers during the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902). The splintered boulders were used to make trenches during the war. Since the original position of the boulder cannot be located, it is assumed that there are no associated archaeological deposits.
Description of Imagery
The boulder has pecked engravings made by the San. Pecked engravings were made by hammering the surface of the rock. Such engravings can show great detail such as folds of skin, ears, eyes and even hairs. This boulder contains one clearly distinguishable buffalo and the partial body and hind quarters of a hippopotamus-like animal.
Mythical rain animals
Both these animals are considered to be closely associated with rainmaking. In San ethnography, there exists an analogy between ‘rain’ and ‘animal’. The rain animal is perceived as either a quick-tempered “rain bull”, considered to be harmful to people or as the attractive “rain cow” that provides soft long showers that revitalise the land. Perhaps the most common characteristic shared by many representations of the rain bull is the large bulky body because the San believed that fat contained a high concentration of supernatural potency. Therefore stylised versions of both the buffalo and hippopotamus were depicted as the mythical rain animal.
What does San rock tell us?
These archaeological artefacts tell us about its makers, who they were, when they lived and most importantly, what they thought. It has shown us that San religion was complex and involved the belief in a spirit world to which medicine people could travel in order to heal, make rain and fight evil.
Interpretation boards in the Garden
This rock has been moved back to the garden with advice and assistance from the Rock Art Department at the Free State National Museum. Interpretation boards are placed beside it. It is an important part of the Garden heritage and adds to the cultural value of the Garden.