My Heart Stands in the Hill

Tightly written and magnificently illustrated - a real history lesson about bushmen in South Africa
Deacon, J.; Foster, C.
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My Heart Stands in the Hill

Authors: Janette Deacon and Craig Foster
Struik Publishers
Cape Town, 2005
ISBN-10: 1770071253
ISBN-13: 9781770071254
Hard cover, dust jacket, 29x29 cm, 280 pages, throughout colour photos


“Our words and photographs layer past and present experiences to celebrate the intangible beliefs that sustained this landscape for millennia.” Janette Deacon & Craig Foster

There are remote parts of this country that seem untouched since the time Bushmen walked and hunted and danced there.

There are archives in Cape Town with thousands of pages of Bushman lore, transcribed painstakingly by language specialists of the 1800s.

There’s an ever-expanding audience of readers hungry for the wisdom represented by our First Peoples.

My Heart Stands in the Hill represents the tragically intertwined journeys of some of these First Peoples and European settlers, the fascinating spiritual travels of /Xam “medicine men” and “rock artists”.

And the pilgrimage of a modern archaeologist and filmmaker who symbolically return the image of these early South Africans to the landscape that was their home.

Craig Foster and Janette Deacon locate significant places described by these people and find rock engravings that record ancient shamanistic experiences connected with rainmaking and other rituals.

The viewer/reader is transported to the landscapes through powerful images of the engravings in their setting. Photographs of the /Xam people themselves are brought back to the landscape by projecting the portraits onto the land.

About the Authors:

Janette Deacon is a well-published archaeologist who specialises in the 19th century /Xam Bushmen.

Craig Foster is an award-winning filmmaker who has won international acclaim for his two Bushman films, The Great Dance and Cosmic Africa.

My Heart Stands in the Hill:

There are remote parts of South Africa that seem untouched since the time that the San walked and hunted and danced there.

The hauntingly beautiful photographs in this book are combined with the voices of the San from the world-famous Bleek-Lloyd Breakwater archives, to produce an experience that will transport the reader deep into the South African interior – to the place where the /Xam Bushmen believed they returned when they died.

The place where their hearts belonged. Shortly before his departure from Cape Town in mid-October 1873, //Kabbo spoke poignantly to Bleek and Lloyd about his home and his longing to return.

'As regards myself, I am waiting that the moon may turn back for me; that I may set my feet forward in the path … I… listen, watching for a story, which I want to hear… that it may float into my ear… I feel that my name floats along the road… along to my place… I feel that a story is the wind.”

//Kabbo died less than three years later, on 25 January 1876, near van Wyksvlei. Quotations from the /Xam testimony written down by Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek in the 1870s have been used throughout the book to demonstrate the rich complexity and depth of understanding of /Xam concepts and beliefs about their spirituality in relation to the land that sustained them both physically and emotionally.

'Our words and photographs layer past and present experiences to celebrate the intangible beliefs that sustained this landscape for millennia. In the theatre of our minds, the /Xam’s words and images can still give life to the land.'

Preface by Craig Foster:

Spend time in the wilderness - places where landscape and sky overwhelm you - and you start to change. In the city you're caught in a rat race and you're fighting to maintain ego. But in the wilderness you can lose your sense of self. You start realising that you are just a tiny cog in an enormously complex system. Your perspective changes and you identify less with your little ego and your little drama.

That's the inner journey. But of course your literal journey brings other kinds of discovery. Spend enough time in the wilderness and, in addition to the landscape and scenery, you might find old artefacts, or come across caves covered in paintings. You might find that, even though you have no knowledge of what it's all about, you have a strong emotional reaction to the wide open spaces we call wilderness.

So it was between 1998 and 2001 when my brother Damon and I were privileged to work with a few contemporary Bushman master trackers on a film project called The Great Dance. While we were hunting on foot with them, they showed us their secrets. Stereotypes started turning upside down in our minds. For example, our whole notion of hunting is about killing, while they see it as dancing. Then we had first-hand experience of trance dances.

Initially on the other side of the camera, we saw extraordinary things happen. You take the images back to studio and for months you're working with them. Of course you become fascinated, and then you feel compelled to experience it for yourself. You think you'll never get it right, but suddenly you're out of your body and you feel what it's like when the ego dies - what the Bushmen call 'the little death'. The insight changes your perception of everything. I now found it hard to see differences between groups of people. In fact, at some point I realised there's not much difference between us and animals. For me, the enduring life force was expressing itself in a myriad different and fascinating ways.

The quest to understand rock art was equally fascinating to me. The artists had embarked on spiritual journeys that so moved them that they immortalised them on rocks. Now imagine having all this explained to you, in your own language, by somebody who has spent 20 years studying the art. In 1997, I was introduced to Janette Deacon. By chance we discovered that she had been working at one of the major rock engraving sites in the Northern Cape for many years, while I had managed to stumble upon it had become one of my favourite places. I knew nothing about the art, but was emotionally drawn to it.

I felt lucky and privileged to be able to take my cameras and help her achieve her dream of making a beautiful book to celebrate the rock art and the people who had made it, and at the same time to learn what had inspired it.

Janette and I kept going back to the landscape every year or so to add to our portfolio of photographs. We wanted to express the grandeur of the landscape; we wanted to demonstrate the way that the rock engravings enhance the hills; and we wanted to convey the overlay of memories and continuing presence of the /Xam.

We read from the Bleek and Lloyd records as we visited the places they had spoken of 130 years earlier, and felt closer to understanding what they had meant. Privy to the painstaking scientific process of collecting and assessing the information, artefacts and life histories of the /Xam people, I heard their ancestral voices. In turn, my untrained creative mind elaborated on Janette's ideas to create this book and these images.



Part I
A Landscape Full of Memories
Landscapes are like theatres accumulating memories of performances over many years

Part II
The /Xam lived with the land, not simply on it

Part III
‘You should make a cloak of rain to give to us, for the rain legs do not seem to stay’

Part IV
‘When you see the light in a dance, this means that you are in the world of the spirit’

Part V
My Heart Stands in the Hill
‘When a Bushman dies, he goes to this place’

Picture Credits