The Sarah Bartmann Centre of Remembrance is a civic and cultural center dedicated to documenting the heritage of southern Africa’s indigenous Khoi and San peoples, and honoring the life of Sarah Bartmann. As the touchstone of the dehumanization and marginalization of women and indigenous peoples in South Africa, Sarah Bartmann’s story communicates powerfully across generations (see Sara Saartjie Baartman 1789-1815 blackpast.org).
The Sarah Bartmann Center is also the gateway to the heritage route of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Reserve in the Kouga Region, an environment of immense archaeological significance that encompasses evidence of human habitation dating back over 120,000 years (ref. 1). The Khoi and San people appeared in the region around 20,000 years ago in the late Stone Age, and cultural artifacts are abundant here, including their rock art, tools, jewelry, pottery and material evidence of feasts and rituals (figs. 2, 3, 5).
The Baviaans Mega Reserve along with seven other protected areas in the Cape Floristic Region was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The Cape Floristic Region is one of the most biodiverse places on earth (figs. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
Ancestral Khoi and San hunter-gatherer societies initiated veld fires to stimulate the growth of serotinous plants, including species called fynbos that require fire at regular intervals to reproduce, cultivating new fynbos species for food and medicinal use – effectively farming long before what is considered the advent of agriculture. Although the first fynbos species date back 24 million years before the arrival of humans, the new species and new interdependencies that characterize today’s fynbos are very much a product of human-plant coevolution and interaction (figs. 11, 12, 13).
The evolved structure of the human brain is intimately connected to the demands made on it to intuit or metabolize its environment for survival. It is also connected to the production of perceptions that are today qualified as ‘religious experience’. The Khoi and San peoples have always had an intimate connection between the trance states of the nervous system and the identification with the natural world on which their livelihoods depend. Entoptic phenomena refer to those images produced by the eyes or the nervous system during states of altered consciousness (fig. 14).
These abstract and often intensely geometrical images are the foundations of much of Khoi and San artforms and legend and serve as ‘heuristic’ diagrams that form links with past and future states of their environment. The zigzag motif is primary among these ancient technological images. These nervous geometries represent the formal foundation of this design proposal and the basis of its site planning.
A zigzag is drawn across the site’s zone of lowest ecological vulnerability (fig. 12). The line travels NE to SW now extending towards the town of Hankey, now cutting back into the slope setting up a rhythmic process of ‘cut and fill’ that carves this institution of memory out of the earth while regenerating the fynbos above and around it. The ancient fynbos effectively manifests the earth’s own evolutionary and geological memory (figs. 13, 14, 15).
In an attempt to right the racist barbarism of Enlightenment Thought, much post-colonial thought in the 2000s lost something important in the process that this project sought explicitly to restore: The direct experiential connection with the land and the environment generally – as a thing that is alive and communicative – has been the source not only of human economic survival, but of our spiritual survival as well. It lies at the origin of human knowledge and at the foundation of our collective memory.
The magic and the enchantment that once made living in the harsh world possible against all costs continues to make the deepest forms of collective experience and art so profound and mysterious today. In finally bringing Sarah Bartmann home, the restorative potentials of this place are activated.
Hankey, South Africa
Cultural and civic center
Lindy Roy with Natasha Harper, Carry McNelly
Okavango Delta Spa
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, ‘Epistemologies of the South’ (Routledge, 2014)
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, ‘Decolonizing Methodologies, Research and Indigenous Peoples’ (Zed Books, 1999)
Marjorie Shostak, ‘Nisa, The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman’ (Harvard University Press, 2000)
Richard Katz, ‘Boiling Energy: Community Healing Among the Kalahari Kung’ (Harvard University Press, 1982)
William James, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ (1902)
Federica Mauro, Antonio Raffone and Rufin VanRullen, ‘A Bidirectional Link between Brain Oscillations and Geometric Patterns (The Journal of Neuroscience, May 20, 2015)
Bjorn Merker et al, ‘Brain Network Reconfiguration and Perceptual Decoupling during an Absorptive State of Consciousness’ (Cerebral Cortex, 1-9, 2015)