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WHITE LADY OF BRANDBERG BUSHMAN PAINTING NAMIBIA (part2) Anthropology and History. The Site, the title, the controversy, the now known facts are...


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White Lady of Brandberg Bushmen Painting Namibia Pt 2. Anthropology and History

The Site, the title, the controversy, the now known facts.

The Tsisab Gorge:  On arrival at the gate you must report to the Daureb Mountain Guides reception office. They offer a selection of hiking tours including: Maack Shelter The White Lady, Highlights Rock Art, Archeology, Geology and even the guided climb to the top of the Konigstein. I found my guide, Peter, (seen below) to be well trained. Courteous, Knowledgeable about the subject and with a friendly disposition. Thanks mate.


The Tsisab Gorge Bushman painting of antelope Explanaition of ancient bushman culture board at Maack Shelter

Health Warning: The best times to visit the Tsisab Gorge are in the early mornings. The mid-day summer temperatures can rise to over 40c. The hike to the area where the paintings is about a 45 minute hike with an amount of soft sand and boulder hopping, so make sure you are wearing good supportive footwear, and take at least 1 liter of water, wear a wide brimmed hat and a high protection factor sun screen.

A National Heritage Site

Peter, my Daureb Guide

World Wide Travel Insurance For You


The White Lady Of Brandberg Mural:

From the easier discernable glyphs and characters the mural measures approx 5.5 meters in length and 1.5 meters in depth. At central section of the mural is the 'White Lady group'. For the record the White Lady Of Brandberg measures approx 39.5cm x 29cm. The central figure is not the only white person depicted in the mural, some of whom are shown as being completely, or almost completely white. The mural is both a work of interest and beauty. The central area of the mural has suffered an amount of 'wear'. In the past there were individuals who would spray water onto the painting in order to enhance the colors for photography purposes resulting in fading. There are other areas of the painting where the original colors have survived extremely well.


The White Lady Of Brandberg - What is it all about?

Is a painting of group of people performing a ritual dance. The central character was a medicine man (shaman) of some importance and shows the body markings of ritual sweat as droplets and streaks. He is wearing wrist, upper arm, knee and ankle ritual-rattle straps and a shoulder / chest strap. He carries a bow and what could be a rattle, fly whisk or a type of goblet. On close inspection it can be seen that the - White Lady Of Brandberg - medicine man is also wearing a type of penis decoration. All of the 'main' characters are wearing some form of footwear. Note that the back legs of the Oryx above are purposely depicted as being human. Closer inspection of the person at 10 o'clock from the White Lady Of Brandberg  is shown as having a breast. Maack's watercolor painting of the mural depicts this more clearly and we should  take into consideration that the painting has suffered an amount of wear damage since that time. Some of the earlier twentieth century visitors to the site would spray the painting with water in an attempt to 'brighten-up' the colors in order to snap a better photograph. This type of vandalism prompted the authorities of the day to place a heavy iron cage in front of the painting. It is only in recent years since the National Heritage Council took control of the site and implemented the ruling that visitors must be accompanied by one of the trained Daures Guides that the full and unobstructed beauty of the painting can be viewed.


The Ancient Inhabitants: Indications of people inhabiting areas of the Brandberg go back as far as 5000 years. Archeological finds include bone and stone tools, arrow tips along with ostrich shell jewelry and items of leatherwork. The hunter gatherers of the Brandberg lived mainly on small antelope, dassies (rock hirax) and hares along with edible plant foods and wild honey. It is considered that these people were Bushmen (San) and that the paintings originate from this group. The Damara have a limited history or tradition of rock art painting.


Materials Used For Painting: The bushmen artists ground iron rich rock or Hematite 

for their red paint; Ochre for the yellows; Charcoal and Manganese for black; Calcium Carbonate for white. Blood serum, egg white and casein were used as binding agents.


More white men

More White Men?

The white lady of Brandberg

The White Lady Of Brandberg -Click to Zoom

Section of Mural

Section Of Mural


Beliefs and Rituals: As with most ancient peoples their interrelationship with their environment played an important part in the group's belief system and culture. Not all of the frescos in the Tsisab Gorge having both animals and humans are depicting hunting scenes. Many show of rituals that would have been of considerable importance to the group. The medicine men (shamans) would be called upon in times of sickness or distress to perform dances and rituals that would bring back to normal the wellbeing of an individual or the group as a whole. Towards the end of the dry season food and water would become in scarce supply and the medicine men would be called upon to  invoke good rains. These earlier Bushmen are thought to have regarded certain species of animals as having once been people and of possessing mystical powers. They believed that certain animals possessed mystical powers. The giraffe, being the tallest was thought to be able to reach into the heavens and help to bring the rains. Other hoofed animals e.g. the Kudu, Oryx, Springbok and Wildebeest were also revered for they had powers to find and even dig for water. The felines - Lion, Leopard and Cheetah were thought to have the powers of dispelling evil and also healing sickness. The Desert Elephant could find water, survive for 3 days without drinking and was capable of traveling up to 70kms in one day, and the Rhinoceros with its' horn were also 'rain animals'.

The shamans wore various ritual decorations. Rattles made from insect cocoons and stitched to leather straps were secured to the wrists, and ankles. Upper arm and knee bands were worn. They used antelope fly whisks and often a musical bow with a resonator. The shamans are seen to be wearing a form of  penis decoration that was indicative of a man who held a high level of responsibility within the group.


Human rear Legs

Human Rear Legs

Wrist & Anklet Rattles

Wrist & Anklet Rattles

Knee Straps and Dewlap

Knee Straps and Dewlap

Fly Whisk and Tail

Fly Whisk and Tail

A Decorated Shaman

A Decorated Shaman


The ritual dances performed by the shamans would last for many hours. The effort required was so great that it caused profuse sweating and sometimes bleeding from the nose. A state of frenzy and trance would be entered during which the shamans would 'take on' the spirit of the particular animal that was critical to the ritual being performed. For example an Oryx for rain, or a lion for healing or dispelling evil. The above left antelope has human legs with knee straps. It was believed that while in a state of trance the medicine men could take on the spirit of the particular animals relevant to the ceremony. They could also transfer the sickness from an individual into themselves and then sweat it out. Sweat produced while under trance was also applied to sick people as a form of healing ointment. The Stork was associated with travel and the Shaman would take upon the spirit of the bird when 'traveling in spirit' to far off places. The remainder of the group, mainly females would sit around in a circle chanting and clapping.

There were also women who practiced shamanism. Studies of later Bushman rituals show that female members of the group could dance with the men, but only one at a time.

There are several large rock shelters in the Tsisab Gorge that were used as ritual centers.  


Summary: Reinhardt Maack continued his interest in recording the Rock Art of South West Africa. The rock shelter in which he 'discovered' the painting that has become known as the White Lady of Brandberg is referred to as the Maack Shelter.


The Abbe Breuil's understand of African rock paintings and the culture of its ancient artists proved to be a misinterpretation. However, his fascination with the White Lady of Brandberg and his related theories, even though in error, should not be scorned. Were it not for his tireless efforts the paintings of the Tsisab Gorge would not have been brought to the attention of the world until a much later period. The White Lady Of Brandberg Frieze should be viewed in its' entirety. It is a beautiful and remarkable work of art. A record of events that tempts us modern day viewers to wonder and speculate as to what was conjured on that magical evening so long ago during that ceremony of ritual dancing.


Acknowledgements and further reading: A1, GV4, H12, R1, R2, R5, P1


 Orange Attention  White Lady of Brandberg part 1

 Orange Attention  White Lady of Brandberg part 3


The White Lady of Brandberg and the Brandberg Area Rock Art Sites

are managed by the National Heritage Council   

Of Interest: Tsisab - Means 'Leopard' in Damara. The Tsisab Gorge is still the home to many leopard.

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