DIVING INTO HERITAGE IN THE EASTERN CAPE

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Tuesday, 24th September 2019

You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared.”
- Robbie Robertson

When you think of heritage in the Eastern Cape a few things come to mind, it is a melting pot of extraordinary diversity. There is the rich cultural heritage of the Xhosas and Khoisan celebrating traditions, food and beliefs, there is the natural heritage firmly rooted in the abundance of flora and fauna, there is heritage of art and also of historical importance reflecting on bygone eras, people and institutions. And it is all there, just waiting to be explored and shared.

With heritage month upon us, you can discover heritage sites and sights from the coast to the Karoo, along the N6 to the forests of the Amathole and Tsitsikamma to the top of the mountains of Kouga and dive into everything the Eastern Cape has to offer.

There are over 200 heritage sites in the Eastern Cape alone – ranging from museum to houses, churches, farmsteads, old stations, school and courts. And before you get lost int the sea of heritage sites, here are a few suggestions of experiences to have in the Eastern Cape to celebrate our rich heritage.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of our cultural and heritage highlights. 

Heritage Sites to visit in the Eastern Cape

Khoisan Cultural Heritage, Tsitsikamma

The Khoisan were the earliest known inhabitants of the Tsitsikamma area – that’s were the name originated from, meaning ‘place of much water’ – and there are several cultural heritage sites dotted along the coast, forest and also in the Langkloof region. These sites include caves such as the Storms River Mouth Cave that is recognised as a Khoisan heritage site, shell middens, rock art sites, graves and there’s even evidence of small fishing settlements and remnants of the forest industries from yesteryear.

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Walter Battiss Art Museum, Karoo Heartland

The Walter Battiss Museum is situated in the heart of Somerset East and celebrates the work and life of one of the leading artists of the twenty-first century. Battiss donated more than 70 pieces of his art to the museum and the curated collection includes a variety of media ranging from watercolour paintings to oil paintings, print and wallpaper to ceramic and textile.

If you are travelling through the Karoo, don’t forget to also visit the Owl House of outsider artist, Helen Martins, in Nieu Bethesda and the Olive Schreiner House in Cradock, of activist, feminist and world-famous author of ‘The Story of an African Farm’.

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Queenstown Frontier Museum

At the foot of the Hangklip Mountain in the Eastern Cape lies Queenstown, an area bordering the Cape Colony and Transkei, rich in cultural and heritage sites that once played a pivotal role during the frontier wars. The Frontier Museum, started by Reverend C.M Hodges and proclaimed in 1963, takes you through a journey of time with its original frontier cottage, exhibitions of historical artefacts, medical equipment, beadwork and more.

Ann Bryant Art Gallery in East London, Wild Coast

If you appreciate contemporary African art, make your way to East London and step into the beautiful Edwardian building which was built in 1905 for Mr. Arthur Savage, the father of the well-known local artists, Elaine Savage, and later bought by the Bryants whose interest in art inspired them to build up a private collection of paintings by British and European art. The gallery officially opened in 1947 and got its name ‘Ann Bryant Art Gallery’ after the late Mrs Bryant bequeathed the house to the city of East London. Today the gallery is host to many exhibitions and the home of permanent collections including names such as Thomas Bowler, Maud Sumner, Lawrence Scully, George Pemba, Willie Bester and Norman Catherine. If you are in the area, don’t forget to also visit Hood Point Lighthouse in East London, another beacon of history and heritage in the city.

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Xhosa Cultural Heritage

There’s more to the Wild Coast than its scenic beauty of green rolling hills, sheer cliffs, remoteness, rugged coastline, waterfalls and sunbathing beach cows. The Wild Coast has a rich cultural heritage and is known for famous Xhosa kings, legends such as Nelson Mandela who grew up in Qunu and is now honoured at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, as well as sites that speak of wars defending independence, land and heritage. When visiting the Wild Coast you can opt to do a homestay and get a glimpse into the life of a traditional Xhosa village and learn more about the language, food, beliefs and traditions.

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Image: Janus Oosthuysen

Baviaanskloof, Kouga region

The Baviaanskloof is a mega reserve – the biggest wilderness area in South Africa - and with a mix of farming and conservation, this World Heritage Site comprises of more than 210 000 hectares known for its biodiversity where 7 of South Africa’s 8 biomes occur naturally. The area is a natural playground for nature, adventure and off-road enthusiasts, and with plenty of hiking, mountain biking and 4x4 trails, an interpretive centre, two restaurants, a craft shop and san rock art, there is plenty to keep you busy.

If you find yourself in the Kouga region, don’t forget to make a stop at the Cape St Francis Lighthouse and for future reference, add the Sarah Baartman Centre of Remembrance in Hankey to your list (the project is still in progress).

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Naude’s Nek Pass, Barkley East

Naude’s Nek Pass is the fourth highest altitude, publicly accessible pass in South Africa, towering 2902 metres above sea level and was pioneered by two brothers, Stephanus David Naude and Gabriel Naude, in 1896. It is believed that the brothers conquered the route on horseback and the pass’ remoteness is still tangible to this day, which has put it on many travellers’ bucket lists.

Steve Biko Museum, King Williams Town

The Steve Biko Centre is an initiative of the Steve Biko Foundation located in the Ginsberg Township in King William’s Town and talks about the legacy of Stephen Biko that can be used as an intellectual, economical and developmental resource. The centre also promotes art and preserves and develops cultural heritage sites amongst other aims and functions as a museum, a resource and media centre, training and conference centre, a cultural performance and production space and there is a commemorative garden honouring human rights activist. If you are in the area, you can also visit the Heritage Museum in Adelaide.

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Pig & Whistle Bathurst, Route 72

Bathurst is home to numerous heritage sites such the oldhistoric powder magazine, the Bradshaw’s Mill, a few churches and of course, the historic and equally vibrant Pig & Whistle Inn, the oldest continuously licensed operating pub in South Africa. As a frontier town, Bathurst was established by the 1820 settlers and one settler, Thomas Hartley, built the local watering hole and inn, but the name - Pig & Whistle Inn - only came 100 years later when soldiers from the Royal Air Force decided to name the pub after their local pub in England.

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Natural Heritage

The Eastern Cape’s natural heritage is made up of mountains, forests, the big five, a magnificent coastline with an equally rugged coastline and long golden stretches of unspoiled beaches and the semi-arid Karoo. When it comes to nature, the province does diversity best. One area that is particularly known for its natural heritage is the Greater Addo region which includes numerous private game reserves as well as South Africa’s third largest park namely, Addo Elephant National Park. What started out as an effort to protect the 11 remaining Addo elephants grew into a conservation success story; today there are more than 700 elephants as well as the four other members of the big five and the park is a popular holiday destination for local and foreign visitors and especially known for its abundance of the eco warrior plant, the spekboom, and the endangered flightless dung beetle. Apart from the abundance of fauna and flora, the park also comprises of the Zuurberg Mountains, home to rock art and stone implements, and the Alexandria dunefield that was known as the middens of the nomadic ‘Strandlopers’.

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