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The Marching Men

The Marching Men

The Marching Men paintings in the Sani Pass area of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park are some of the finest examples of rock art in the ‘Berg.

Stuart McLean, an enthusiast on both rock art and birding takes tours to the site. He interpreted some of the depictions for Fiona McIntosh…

The Marching Men site is a pleasant 14-kilometre hike in the Sani Pass area of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s not unduly strenuous (if you are reasonably fit), climbing about 250 metres in altitude. The site comprises huge, displaced sandstone boulders with rock art in the overhangs.

1 Marching men of iIkanti, photo ShaenAdey 0988

The “Marching Men” from which the site takes its name.

The main panel includes numerous figures of men, which some people suggest might represent a migration. This is of course unlikely as given that mainly men are portrayed: on any migration you require the full spectrum of people in a clan, males, females and children.

Eland are also represented. The Bushmen consider eland as spiritual animals possessing great powers, which may be harvested by the hunters and transferred to the clan.

It may be difficult for us to understand the beliefs of these hunter-gatherers. But if you were living, eating and sleeping in nature every day of your life, your beliefs would certainly be very different to those of today. The power generated by eating the eland and other animals without doubt took on a special meaning to hunter-gatherer clans.

Eland, which were believed to be spiritual animals possessing great powers, are often seen in the rock art paintings of the Drakensberg.
Detail of the Marching Men paintings.

The idea of controlling the spirit of the eland spirit first in the mind, and then capturing that power on the rock face, seems to have been the primary purpose of many of the paintings. This is clearly illustrated in the large eland figure seen facing right in the left hand corner of the panel. It appears to be in trouble. The tail is erect, the front legs are un-naturally forward, there are lines running vertically across the shoulder and the head is hanging with the tongue protruding. All these features lead us to think that the artists are trying to symbolise a dying eland (ie a successful hunt) – falling, trembling (as indicated by the stripes) and in pain.

4. Marching Men, Stuart McLeanIMG_0822

Note how the eland facing right in the left-hand corner is depicted in a different way to the other eland.


In this panel you can see that the images of eland have been painted over older images of elephants.

For a guided tour contact: Stuart McLean – Birds and Beyond Tours, 082 742 6981/033 702 1761, www.birdsandbeyond.co.za

Important to note: 

Access to rock art sites in the Drakensberg Park is strictly controlled so as to prevent graffiti or damage to the paintings. Visitors must be guided and in possession of an entry permit. Permits and a list of accredited guides are available at the local Ezimvelo KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation offices.

Words: Fiona McIntosh

Pictures: Shaen Adey, Stuart McLean

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