The Art of Protest

The Maleboho war of 1894 and the rock art of the Makgabeng, Limpopo Province, South Africa.

Origins Centre

The Makgabeng, Limpopo (2006) by Origins Centre. Patrick WatsonOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The Makgabeng plateau in Limpopo Province

The Makgabeng landscape and rock art tell an extraordinary story of oppression and resistance – a story of how Hanawa (originally Hurutshe) people managed to keep their ancestral land.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Train Shelter

This life-size replica of this site in the Makgabeng is a permanent exhibit at Origins Centre.
Painted images of trains are extremely rare in southern African rock art, and are only depicted at a handful of rock art sites in the Makgabeng.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Colonialism, aggression and power

Colonialism undermined many indigenous cultures of South Africa. Indigenous knowledge was lost as capitalist systems were forced on people, and as people had to live in specific areas or to become labourers in the city. This resulted in a loss of language, leaders and stories.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Chief Maleboho (Maleboch/Malebogo)

The images in the rock art panels of the Makgabeng tell the remarkable story of Chief Maleboho and the Hananwa people's resistance to the Paul Kruger government's invasion of their land in the 1890s.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Trains as symbols of disempowerment

The rock art shelters depict trains as monsters that ate people and deposited them in the mines in faraway Johannesburg. They were compelled to work there as part of the Kruger government’s ‘hut tax’. 

The train is a powerful symbol of disempowerment, which took Hananwa people away and brought white people back; pushing locals into small and less desired areas.  

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Conflict and the movement of people

Local Hananwa chief, Chief Maleboho, fought against the taxes and relocation orders. His opposition resulted in the Maleboho War of 1894.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Maleboho and his men protected their capital, Moilatha, and fought the South African troops from the Blouberg mountains.
After much fighting and many dead on both sides, Chief Maleboho could not bear to see his people suffering and he surrendered. 

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

War and seige

Next to a scene of ZAR soldiers on horseback, we see three men, hands-on-hip, standing inside a bounded line. this has been interpreted as soldiers standing in the small stone forts that surrounded Maleboho on Blouberg during the seige.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Prison

After a three month siege, the Hananwa surrendered to Kruger's forces. Maleboho was taken to Pretoria Central Prison, and his land and possessions were annexed.

When the British took over power in 1900 Maleboho was freed and his land was returned to him.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Humour in the portrayal of ZAR troops


South African Republic (ZAR) troops and soldiers are, comically, depicted in aggressive postures, with their hands on their hips, or on horseback with rifles.   

Even today this posture is a source of hilarity to modern Hananwa observers because the pose is generally not adopted by Africans and is therefore readily associated with Europeans (van Schalkwyk & Smith 2004).

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Animals and Symbols

A range of animals are depicted in the rock art panels of the Makgabeng - from domesticated animals, such as horses and dogs, to wild animals, such as giraffe and baboons.

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Baboon Totem

The rock art is rich in the symbolism of war. 
The baboon is the animal totem of the Hananwa chiefly family. Maleboho is known as the Great Baboon. 

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Paint and technique

The rock art of the Makgabeng is predominantly painted in white and was applied thickly onto the rock by finger. The white paint used is a form of clay found in many riverbeds in the area. Red and black pigments are rarely used. White pigment is characteristic of rock art traditions belonging to African agriculturists.    

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Although some of the more recent wrongs are being put right, and some lands returned, the dislocation of many peoples from their past and land has resulted in many stories of South African’s being lost forever.  

Replica of the 'Train Shelter' in the Makgabeng (2006) by HananwaOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The Hananwa rock art ensures that the story of Maleboho’s resistance to colonization remains part of his people’s knowledge and history.

The Makgabeng, Limpopo (2006) by Origins Centre. Patrick WatsonOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Hananwa

This area remains Hananwa territory to this day. Maleboho played a pivotal role in fighting for the liberation of his people.  

Credits: Story

The Hananwa peoples of the Makgabeng
Replica by Lawrence Raubenheimer
Rock Art Research Institute
Len van Schalkwyk and Benjamin Smith (van Schalkwyk & Smith, 2004, Insiders and Outsiders: Sources for Reinterpreting a Historical Event).
Online exhibition curator: Tammy Hodgskiss

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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