Sunday, June 20, 2010

Op Soek na die Watermeid

(Searching for the Karoo Mermaid)

The semi-arid Klein Karoo, which is situated in long valley bordered by the majestic Swartberg Mountains (North) and Outeniqua & Langeberg Mountains (South), is a magical landscape of towering cliffs, crystal clear streams and an abundance of indigenous flora. It's one of the Western Cape's most diverse regions. The region is hot and dry in summer and has plenty of sunshine in winter, which makes it ideal for road trips, especially bike trips.

History books tell us that this area was first explored by European settlers in the late 17th century. Dutch ensign Isaq Schrijver first penetrated the Klein Karoo by an elephant track that was to become Attakwas Pass. He and his party reached the Olifants River valley in January 1689 where they encountered Khoisan people already living in this rather dry area. In those days herds of buffalo, elephant and kudu still dominated these plains. History books also tell of the "Feather Barons" and their magnificent 19th century ‘ostrich palaces’.

But this area has history from before the 17th century. The Khoisan had already been living here for generations by then and they had their own history, legends and stories, some of which survive to this day. It's one of these legends that peaked my interest - the "Watermeid".

The "Watermeid" (or Karoo mermaid) has been an integral part of Karoo folklore for years. Stories passed down from parents and grandparents, warn children not to go near deep pools in case the "Watermeid" drags them in and drowns them.

Modern man dismissed these stories, saying these stories began as a way to protect children from the dangers of deep water, until archeologists started finding Khoisan "Rock Art" depicting the Watermeid and even groups of these Karoo mermaids.

Could there be more to this story?

In my research about the subject I learned that I was not the first to wonder about this. In September 2006 Wendy Hardie did exactly the same thing. She took film-maker Maya Morgan and went looking for the Watermeid of the Klein Karoo.

(Photo from this website)

They followed a trail of indigenous stories, spoke to people who had firsthand sightings and saw some of the rock art.

'Searching for Mermaids in the Karoo' was screened on the SABC in 2007 and a DVD of the documentary, with an accompanying Guide-book & Map — can be ordered directly by emailing So that's what I did.

Here is an excerpt from the DVD:

It's well made and the info (especially contact information of eye witnesses) was a huge leap forward in my research, but amazingly they never spoke to Poem Mooney, leader of the Attakwa Khoi and legendary storyteller. He is an expert on Attakwa Khoi history and especially the Watermeid. I would definately have to rectify that in my trip.

This report will differ from my other reports in that this single report will cover several rides to places of interest. That and the fact that this Report has started already and the ride is not finished yet. From post to post the people on the rides might differ and more rides will probably be added in future when more sightings occur. The Watermeid legend truly is a living history writing it's own chapters as time goes on.

A new feature in this report will be downloadable Google Earth place marks of each place of interest. In the end I will string these rides / destinations together and create a downloadable "Watermeid route" (with relevant details) for other riders who might want to organize a ride to see all these places.

So did we find her? There is only one way to find out:

CP Nel Museum / Eporia



Olifants rivier  / Dysselsdorp


Boesmans drif

Rock Art


Nieu Betesda




Sources: Discovering the Karoo Mermaid; Searching for Mermaids in the Karoo



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