Rock Art of Setukane Mountain, Waterberg Limpopo Province
On Thursday the 1st of August 1895 the missionary Hermann Schlömann made an ‘arduous mountain trek’ to see Bushman paintings on the edge of the Waterberg. He was amazed by both the preservation of the site and the skill of the painters. Nearly 130 years later, Dr Ghilraen Laue, Human Sciences Department, KwaZulu-Natal Museum, and Professor Lyn Wadley, Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, made the same climb to find the paintings. Even though the site's rough position was marked on a map 25 years earlier by the Rock Art Research Institute, it still took four hours, scrambling through the thick and thorny overgrowth, to find the site. In an area where many sites are poorly preserved the paintings of Setukane Mountain (Tafelkoppe) stand out, not only for their remarkable preservation but also for the diversity of imagery.
The many paintings cover about 9 meters of the inner wall of the shelter (Photo: L. Wadley)
Left: Two finely painted giraffe (Photo: L. Wadley). Right: The body of this ostrich was most likely originally painted in black pigment which has now disappeared (Photo: G. Laue).
When Schlömann visited the site the Bushman painters no longer lived in the area, but the local inhabitants still visited the site to pray in ‘times of extreme distress’ such as severe drought. Although the meaning of the paintings was no longer understood the site was still seen as a powerful place. Over 50 years of research into Bushman rock art have shown that the art was intimately related to the image-maker’s beliefs, rituals, and interactions with the spirit world.
Left: Dancing figures enclosed in a roughly painted circle (Photo: L. Wadley). Right: Animal headed ‘non-real’ creature (Photo: G. Laue).
The site is on land now owned by the Majadibodu Community Trust and the mountain still holds a special importance for the people. The name ‘Setukane’ means ‘smoking’ as in something burning. Thabitha Mmakgabo Tebogo Seloba (nee Majaibodu) (1924- 2018) who was born close to the mountain told how when the time for ploughing was approaching people would see beautiful seeds on a specific rock on the mountaintop, but if one tried to bring the seeds down they would disappear.