Op soek na die Watermeid

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The semi-arid Klein Karoo, which is situated in long valley bordered by the majestic Swartberg and Outeniqua & Langeberg Mountains, 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 an a DVD of the documentary, with an accompanying Guide-book & Map — can be ordered directly by emailing hardie@iafrica.com. 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 other reports in that this single report will cover several rides to places of interest. Well, that and the fact that this Ride Report has started before the ride is finished. See this as the first RLT Forum "live" Ride Report and become part of the report by joining in on some of the rides (planning thread here). More and more rides will also 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.

Another 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 future who might want to organize a single ride to see all these places.

So did we see her yet? There is only one way to find out:
These "Part" buttons will be clickable and will take you to the relevant post as the posts are added (experiment).

CP Nel Museum / Eporia



Olifantsrivier - Dysselsdorp


Boesmans drif

Rock Art

Nieu Bethesda





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

In 1996 the Watermeid made the headlines in the mainstream media.

It all began with the terrible flood in the Oudshoorn District at the end of 1996. I remember it well because I got married (in George) on the day the rain started. The resulting flood washed ostriches, crocodiles, cattle, farm equipment, trees and sections of tar road through Meiringspoort and Oudtshoorn all the way to the sea. Numerous houses in Oudtshoorn were flooded knee deep by the Olifants river and the damage was such that Oudtshoorn was declared a disaster area. The Meiringspoort road was all but destroyed and some of the guests at our wedding had to take long detours to get back home.

While reporting during the flood someone on the radio joked that the Watermeid must have been washed all the way to the sea. Shortly after a regional radio station (Suid Kaap Sterio) reported that the Watermeid washed up on the beach and was taken to the CP Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn where it was kept in a glass tank. A national radio station (RSG) heard about it and repeated the story. Then all hell broke loose...

The museum was inundated with calls. They wanted to know where the Watermeid was and whether they could see her? People came from near and far, from Pretoria, Cape Town, PE and numerous other places. Some journeyed through the night to see the phenomenon. Then people became angry and riotous because there was nothing to see at the museum. They claimed the museum was only showing the Watermeid to the Whites. Even the police arrived to keep the crowds under control.

The curator announced that the museum's tower will be filled with water for the Watermeid to live in. In the meantime the museum personnel quickly converted a mannequin into a mermaid and hung it in the tower so that people who came from far had something to see. When the people got the impression that it was a money making scam the curator suspended the entrance fee for that week. Finally the people saw her and realizing that it was only a dummy got even more annoyed. There had to be a real Watermeid. It was on the radio!

(Photo from this website.)

Finally the curator told the people that the Watermeid had been returned to the river. Soon after a "seer" in the community claimed to have talked to the Watermeid at Rooiwalle. Another also claimed to have spoken to the Watermeid and apparently the Watermeid told her that her name was EPORIA. Things then finally calmed down.

But it did not end there. Stories of the Watermeide continued to appear in magazines and newspapers during the year. In Van Rhynsdorp a Watermeid caused a youngster to drown. In the Eastern Cape a Watermeid caused such a fuss that the matter ended up in court. In the Moddergat river at Macassar, near Somerset West, one kept a group of youths in a panic for a week. And in Europe the famous bronze statue of a mermaid in Copenhagen was decapitated for the second time since it's erection in 1913.

(Photo from this website.)

Since 1996 the Watermeid appeared in several paintings and shows at the KKNK and the well known Antoinette Pienaar performed a cabaret called "Eporia". In nearby Calitzdorp a special Mermaid Port was bottled and television even screened programs about the Watermeid or Karoo Mermaid.

Asterix and I went to the CP Nel Museum to see the Watermeid that caused all the fuss. We were disappointed to find that the Watermeid had been taken out of the tower since, but the museum personnel was kind enough to get her out of storage so that we could see her. And here she is:

So, our trip had not even started and already we've seen the Karoo Mermaid. A positive start to our trip! Hopefully during our trip we'll see the real thing.

Source: CP Nel Museum

Dis nou vir jou 'n avontuur
TR mag maar :headbang: :headbang: :headbang: :headbang: :headbang: :headbang: :headbang: :headbang: :headbang:

So where better to start than the place where she was returned to the river - Rooiwalle. Rooiwalle literally translated, translates to "Red Walls" (and you'll see why!).

I decided to chat to the locals and ask about the Watermeid whenever the chance presented itself. I refueled in Oudtshoorn and asked the petrol attendant if he knew about a mermaid in the area? "A mermaid? No. Never heard of it. What is that?" The Watermeid? "The Watermeid! But of course!"

He has not seen her himself, but he knows about her and absolutely believes she exists. She lives in the Olifants river and has blue eyes, long black hair, pink cheeks and 'n white skin never touched by the sun. She is the most beautiful woman in the world. It is only when you go closer that you realize - it's a fish! And if she gets a hold of you there's BIG trouble...

Well there you have it. The first random person we asked knew all about the Watermeid. We would come to realize later that this was the norm as not a single person we asked was perplexed by the question. Not everybody believed, but without fail everybody knew about her. And the descriptive name is "Watermeid". Try to be PC and ask about the "Karoo Mermaid" and no-one would have a clue what you're talking about.

So off we went, heading South towards George. Just outside of Oudtshoorn you find the Olifants River. Picture looking East:

In the picture above you can see that most of the river is covered in reeds. In the background you can see Rooiwalle.

This road past Rooiwalle (a small connecting road) has been closed because of flood damage (more about that later). Sometimes though, if you're lucky, the gate is open and you can see this phenomenon. And as it happens the gate was open today!

These Rooiwalle must have been formed by wind and water erosion. It's not solid, but formed out of red clay and river stones and there are several places where small "caves" formed.

Close-up shot of the wall:

I find this very interesting. I would love to hear a geologist's opinion on this.

I parked my bike for the purpose of scale - look at how big this is!

The road here fell away into the river a couple of years back. Because of the nature of these Rooiwalle I doubt if this road will be opened ever again.

And this is the deep hole in the Olifants river where the Watermeid was said to have been returned to the river. I can certainly believe that there could have been drownings here in the past (most of the stories go hand in hand with drownings).

We did not see anything resembling the Watermeid (and luckily, if we did, we were safe on a high spot! ) but this certainly is a unique and beautiful place. Well worth a visit!

But where did it all start?

She first appeared in reports in 1875 at a place called Eseljagtspoort...

Lyk my die watermeid se hande is andersom as gewone mense s'n  :MrGreen:

Lekker interessante trippie die  :thumb:


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