A Man on a Mission to Interpret the Past

It was their connection to the earth that spoke to me first, how lightly they walked upon it. It was a fascination tinged with a slight nostalgia – a longing for a simpler, better time. But as the years pass, I am discovering that the ways of the Bushmen of southern Africa have as much to teach us about the present and future as they do about the past. They may be the oldest living culture on Earth, with a spirituality that predates all the world’s religions, but their approach to life still remains a source of great wisdom – their nomadic, hunter-gathering way of life, not using more than needed and making the most of all that you have, the importance of community, and working to live not living to work.

Their customs, traditions and beliefs have been well-documented, held onto for long after the different San tribes began to fade, on the rocks of numerous caves across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. One of the best places to view their rock paintings is the Cederberg Mountains of the Cape, and here at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

We caught up with Londi Ndzima, the Rock Art Curator at Bushmans Kloof, to find out more about their numerous sites and the stories behind them. Discover more below in our Q&A.

10 QUESTIONS WITH LONDI NDZIMA

1. What does nature mean to you?

Peace and quiet; the outdoors for me is the best place to be.

2. Explain your love of rock-art and the stories it has to tell about the people of the Cederberg.

The history of the hunter gatherer/San people is very similar to that of my own people, The Xhosa. Even down to things like using local plants for medicine, the role of ‘community’ and the art of storytelling. Through the rock art, one gets an insight into how they lived, who and what they came into contact with and what was important and significant to them. Through the ongoing research into rock art, there is constantly new information becoming available and I feel really privileged to be able to share these perspectives and insights with visitors.

3. Why is holding onto and preserving the past important to you?

Because there are no written accounts of the lives of the San & Khoi people in the area, we have to rely on what they did leave behind… in this case, these paintings.

4. Explain your passion for storytelling?

My Grandmother used to regale us with stories as children; about our culture, our traditions and ceremonies, such as when a boy kills his first eland which marks his entry into manhood and means that he is eligible for marriage. These stories connected us/ me to our history and our ancestors.  I have loved telling stories about the San and Khoi, through the interpretation of their art.

5. How have you continued to learn so much about the Bushman and their way of life?

Being exposed to the ongoing research through my relationship with Prof John Parkington and others researchers and specialists; as well as by reading reading reading; and talking to people from around the world (many of whom visit Bushmans Kloof). I learn every day and I’m able to bring all this knowledge to our guests.

6. What makes Bushmans Kloof such a special place for people to learn about the rock art?

There are so many amazing sites on the property, over 130, each offering its own unique bit of information and each a small piece in the puzzle of rock art in the Cederberg area. Having a Rock Art Curator on the property certainly enhances visitor experiences.

7 & 8.  What has your role as rock art curator here, and / your knowledge of the Bushman taught you about yourself, love and life?

I have fallen in love with nature, working at Bushmans Kloof.  It’s really strange because when I was young I loved maths (I wanted to be an engineer) and now I love history and medicinal plants. Quite a change… but I love my life exactly as it is now.

9. Where in the world are you the happiest and why?

Taking a walk in the rocks at Bushmans Kloof… the light here is amazing.

10. Words to live by?

–  Mentor – I’d like to leave a legacy of my love for what I do.

–  Happy –  I want people to have fun and be happy when they are around me.

–  Learn – I want to keep learning and sharing.

Please Leave Me Here, The Art and I Are Bonding

I can tell you one thing that I know for sure. If you have a camera, which translates to, if you have a cellphone, you will take at least three photos of this face…

You will do so from the left, the right and the front and you might even, like me, go beyond that, capturing it in the different light from sunrise to set. You might try four different cameras on it… the professional one (Canon for me), the weird one (GoPro), the happy snap one (Sony CyberShot) and the quick pic (the cellphone).

You see, this face, like the face of a you and a me, is more intricate than you first perceive. It deserves attention. It deserves a closer look.

Crafted by artist and sculptor Lionel Smit, it is the Large Malay Girl Fragment resting on the shoulders of the Ellerman House terrace, the Atlantic Ocean stretching out behind her. She is the most-photographed sculpture in the hotel’s garden and sits quietly observing the goings-on.

She holds the secrets of visitors from near and far, their words and actions, and I’m convinced that you can almost see each story breathing more and more life into her as the years pass. You see it especially in those eyes. Perhaps I’m merely looking too closely or enjoying gin o’clock too freely, but the girl has layers.

Lionel Smit’s work features elsewhere on the estate and similar effects can be detected in both his paintings and sculptures. In this specific piece, it almost looks like the layers were added in the same manner in which paint would be layered to a canvas. As he does in this exquisite artwork in Ellerman House’s  Contemporary Art Gallery

I have heard the debate on the subject of photographing art, but I’m a fan. Being a photographer and not an artist, this is slightly subjective. I understand the shame of taking a photo of something like the Mona Lisa and printing it to hang on my wall, of zooming in and missing the frame completely. It’s a bit like downloading music for free.

But I took the photographs for the sake of sharing them with you, as we do, most of us, to show you just why I found it so difficult to pry myself out of the hallways and galleries of this grand Cape Town home on the hill, in the hope that you will take yourself there to see it all up close too.

Here they are below. For more information, read Art at Ellerman House.

 

The Sacred Heart of Madagascar

Sacred sites 3

In moments like this, I can never tell whether my heart is beating faster, wilder, its doof doof doof building dizzily, or whether it has stopped. What I do know is that it is not rested in the in-between. And it is not on terra-firma, wherever it is, whatever it’s up to.

Moments like this are the culmination of coming across something never before seen – not by me at least, and not by many – and seeing it with new friends who live in this remote part of Madagascar, three people who have already made their way into my heart. This confused heart. This heart that finds itself in unknown territory, a territory so powerful that reacting in any simple way is just not possible.

You made it more powerful, fellow explorers, leading me to that sacred space in the Lost World of Antafiamohara – past the tall wooden sculptures carved by local hands that call this region of and around Anjajavy in Madagascar home.

Tree life

The faces of those sculptures that stared back at me as we entered the tomb, they have stayed with me too. In deep memory, coming to me not only in my photographs but in my dreams. Them and the lemurs. And that cinnamon roller. Because Anjajavy doesn’t leave you, does it? It joins with you and you forever roam onward together.

How could I not feel a mix or fear and awe, sitting there on the rocks of this hidden cathedral to the dead?

What with the profound respect with which many of the tribes in Madagascar treat their deceased – the sculptures they make to honour and guard the tombs, the coffins they carve to home their lost ones, and the Famadihana (‘turning of the bones’) ceremony.

Antafi 1

Onja

After seven or so years of being buried, the bones of a corpse are dug up and moved to a family tomb, like the one I found myself at during my time at Anjajavy le Lodge. New coffins are made for the bones, which are then left to rest once more – but not before a family reunion with plenty of song and dance. All in the name of giving thanks for the blessings the ancestors have bestowed from the spirit world.

How could I not feel fear and awe?

Fear for the spirits, whether I believed or not, fear for stepping wrong, for saying something out of place, for not showing enough respect. And awe… for the devotion, the dedication, the love of the Malagasy way, for being welcomed and allowed to sit so close to the remnants of men and women who have passed on.

Sacred sites 1

Sacred sites

Doof doof, yes, it was definitely a doof doof. I feel it now. Building again. I feel the power of that tomb and of the union of our little tribe of four, Maître de Maison Cédric, Guide Johnson, Head Waiter Onja and me, beholding something special, together.

That is the purpose of travel, is it not? “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel.”

Yes, I think so.

Thank you, Walter Mitty. And thank you, Madagascar.

anjajavy-1

Sacred sites 4

Read more about this sacred tradition in these articles from Lonely Planet and Ancient Origins and visit Anjajavy le Lodge to experience it for yourself.