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.
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
A National Heritage Site
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
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?
The White Lady Of Brandberg -Click to Zoom
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
Wrist & Anklet Rattles
Knee Straps and Dewlap
Fly Whisk and Tail
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.
further reading: A1, GV4, H12, R1, R2, R5, P1
White Lady of Brandberg
of Brandberg part 3
The White Lady of Brandberg and the Brandberg Area Rock Art
are managed by the National Heritage Council
Of Interest: Tsisab - Means 'Leopard' in Damara. The Tsisab Gorge is
still the home to many leopard.