Excerpts from "A Traveller's Guide to Swaziland" by Bob Forrester.
CARS and DRIVING
Index to information in the guide
BUSHMAN PAINTINGS are a poignant link with the past, bushman paintings depict scenes from a lifestyle which remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. The Bushmen mixed pigments and ochre in a fluid base to paint humans and animals in stylised form on the walls of caves and on rocks. Although these paintings were executed hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago - secure dates have not been established - they have been preserved because of the absorbent properties of rock which has held the pigments down through the ages.
In Swaziland a number of Bushman paintings have been discovered but only one site is open to the public. Nsangwini is a community project on the rim of the Komati Valley near Piggs peak. The area is idyllic rolling grassland with mountains and the Komati, which is the second largest river in the country, winds its way through a broad valley. The community have the best rock painting site in the country, it has been sensitively developed and is open to the public. The paintings were executed by people in the Bushman / San tradition, the date is unknown, but probably they were painted over hundreds of years, not in a single event. Whatever the date, it was before the colonial period started in the 1880s. See the Bushman entry for more details on their culture. Whatever their origins the paintings are fascinating.
The community has trained guides who have accurate information on the site. They take you to the rock shelter which is about twenty minutes below the rim of the valley where you park, and about thirty mintes back up again. The path is steep and in places quite uneven, but the destination is well worth the effort.
When you arrive at first it looks as though there is nothing there, but quickly one tunes into the style of the paintings and then suddenly they are everywhere - on walls, boulders and the ceiling. Some of the figures are large and crude, there is a big elephant, indicating that this was a rainmaking site, as well as some small and exquisitely painted figures with human bodies, birds wings and preying mantis heads. Ask the guide to show you the paintings of the black pastoralists, these are special. Remember to take water and sunscreen, the valley can get very hot on summer afternoons. It is then best to start off fairly early in the morninmg to get back up again before midday and the risk of afternoon storms.
Getting there is simple and the access is good, the route is close to a tar road and suitable for cars, except in or just after heavy rain. But even then the road soon dries. Nsangwini is signposted from up to twenty kilometers away on the main Piggs Peak / Mbabane road between Piggs Peak and the sawmill a few kilometers on the way to Mbabane. The signs indicate rock art, not Bushman paintings. This can be a bit confusing in a country with a lot of carvings sold on the side of the road. From the old main road take the tar loop to Maguga Dam, this too is clearly posted. If you are coming from Piggs Peak then before you get in to the valley proper you will start seeing signs indicating rock art. On a shoulder the turnoff is posted left turn onto a good dirt road that winds its way through fertile rural countrysuide before arriving at Nsangwni reception 14 kilometers later. Every single turn is signposted with large clear brown signs showing Bushman paintings, this is a very easy place to find.
At the start of the trail down to the site there is a reception hut with drinks and curios for sale, this is where you meet the guide. There is a twenty Emalangeni entrance fee for adults, discounts for students and children. If you want to phone ahead to book, call 637 3767, but the guides are almost always reliable and available. Highly recommended.