Ancient knowledge

It is in plain sight at the foot of a sandstone cliff. But one has to look out for the village almost camouflaged in the winter landscape, or spot the small roadside sign at the turnoff.

Almost camouflaged in the wintry landscape is the Basotho Cultural Village in the Golden Gate National Park near Clarens.
Image by: Sam J Basch

A tour of the Basotho Cultural Village is one of those must-do activities when visiting the Golden Gate National Park near Clarens. It is managed by the Free State Province’s department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation.

The park is unusual in the sense that the main road seems to be the shortcut route from Harrismith to Clarens, with taxis and private vehicles speeding along – flatly ignoring the mandatory speed limit in our national parks.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that the entrance gates into the park, at both ends, are no longer staffed at all – at least when we visited there. The actual structures have also fallen into disrepair. There’s no one to register visitors or receive payment of any kind, or to check the vehicle.

It begs the question whether poaching is not the order of the day…

View towards the Basotho Cultural Village in the Golden Gate National Park near Clarens.
Image by: Sam J Basch

Still, it is worthwhile to take time off the usual game viewing to acquire some of the ancient knowledge for which the village is a repository. Some of the activities include tasting indigenous food and traditional beer, or enjoying music played on traditional instruments. Arts and crafts are displayed in the museum, with some for sale to tourists.

Traditional healer Sello Keletso shares his vast knowledge of medicinal plants with tourists on the Herbal Trail.
Image by: Sam J Basch

We opted for the Herbal Trail. A tourist guide and a traditional healer ushered us on the hike up to Matlakeng Mountain, all the while pointing out plants and herbs with medicinal value. It was probably not the best time of year for this activity; according to the brochure the herbal trail is conducted during the summer months and we were there in August.

Tourists hiking with a guide and a traditional healer in the Golden Gate National Park.
Image by: Sam J Basch

However, on our hike the healer Sello Keletso every now and then would indicate a tiny, obscure and barely visible, plant that could be used for medicinal purposes. Some would be crushed into a poultice to treat injuries or insect bites, others dried out for infusing as a herbal tea. A stringy leaf among the rocks would reveal the presence of the wild African potato, a tuber used to enhance immunity and treating ailments such as urinary infections.

Tour guide Lehlohonolo Lefalatsa and traditional healer Sello Keletso (right) explain the intricacies of ancient knowledge.
Image by: Sam J Basch

Our tour guide Lehlohonolo Lefalatsa led us to a sandstone overhang high up in the mountain where he pointed out exquisite San (Bushman) rock paintings. This art form depicts not only the culture of early hunter-gatherer societies, but is also some of the oldest evidence of storytelling – often thousands of years old. It is believed the shamans used brushes made from animal hair or feathers and natural pigments to document the lives of their people.

Tour guide Lehlohonolo Lefalatsa pointing out ancient San (Bushman) rock paintings on the rock face.
Image by: Sam J Basch

According to our two guides, much of the ancient knowledge of the hunter-gatherer societies was passed down to inhabitants of this wonderful land.

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6 Responses

  1. My favourite place on the planet, Sam. The favouritestest place is on top of the Sentinel Rock, of course. I grew up in the Free State and Golden Gate was a regular picnic/camping spot.

  2. Hi Sam
    I enjoyed the article.
    Clearly this is something that I must do, now that I’m settled in my new home, just down the road from the Golden Gate😀
    It’s fantastic that your visit to the Free State inspired you to write so vividly.
    I think you need to come back again soon.
    Richard

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