Through the Attakwas kloof lies an ancient pathway, trampled out by the huge, hard feet of migrating Elephants, to the soft pattering feet of a fox at hunt or Springbok being hunted. This path provided a way over the barrier mountains standing between the coast and the interior.
These ‘Barrier Mountains’ were the Swartberge ( Black Mountains) in the North, and the Langberge (long Mountains) in the South.
In 1689 the chief of the Inkwa tribe, Hykon, had invited the commander of the Cape settlement into the interior, and the chief’s only road, had been this one.
The Little Karoo was once known as ‘Cannaland’, this previous name was inspired by the Ganna (Sceletium), that in the flower months formed as a blanket of sorts for the Little Kalaharis, so pervasive was the species.
Amazing (and quite fabulous for the mind to try and grasp, while standing face to face with the Little Karoo), the Little Karoo is one of the most amazing landscapes entirely fashioned by water. A brave concept to digest, seeing as the Little Karoo is a vast, dangerous desert.
An ancient sea washed over the area millions of years ago (about 600 to 800 to be a little more precise), containing within it thousands upon thousands living creatures and organisms. Rhich in nutrients, this ancient sea’s small residents helped in the creating, or forming of the 140 km long, 1000m thick belt of limestone. Their falling shells and skeletons over many years transformed into just that.
More species of succulents grow in the Little Karoo than anywhere else, and thus it makes for quite some excitement under Botanists.
Some of the Succulent Species include:
->Ancient parents of cultivated Geraniums world wide, the family of GERANIACEAE’s offspring also range to the famous Bushman’s Candle (Sarcocaulon pattersonii). So called because the plant’s stem secretes a very flammable resinous concentration, that enables it to be burned, even when the plant itself is still green!
->The LILIACEAE family include diverse offspring ranging from the adamant ‘Lili’ (Lilly) in Liliaceae, to Aloes and Haworthias. The leading authority on succulent plants, Adrian Haworth from England is the lucky fellow the Haworthias are named after.
One particularly spectacular, collectible Haworthia, is the Haworthia truncata, or better known as ‘Perdetande” – Horse teeth. So called as the plant’s tips of its leaves resembles a full set of horse’s teeth! Though apart from its weird appearance, it is also noted for its medical value.
The Aloes that are part of the LILIACEAE family are greatly known because of its medical values, especially ALOE VEROX, which is a key ingredient in a popular line of products in South-Africa that’s uses range from helping to heal burn wound better, to treating acne.
->The next plant family sounds like it comes straight out of a 70’s sci-fi movie! The ASCLEPIADACEAE family is a reptilian looking/colored bunch, including stapelias, who feed on living insects! Beckoning them closer by mimicking the scents of death; rot and excrement.
->The Ganna (Salsola aphylla) itself is a huge provider of food for ostriches and livestock and mostly flourishes in dry watercourses.
A very interesting story that springs forth from amongst the wilderness and beauty of the Little Karoo is the legend of the Watermaidens.
In 1875, a farmer known as D Ballot penned down this most mysterious and interesting event from the past told to him by a old Bushman named Afrikaander in these exact words:
‘I know many stories of Waterwomen which my mother has told me and I will tell Baas (Master) one of them.’
‘There was once a girl who all the people said was so good-looking. One day the girl went out to walk along the river; and came to a large water-hole over which a krantz (cliff) was hanging.’ Here old Afrikaneander stopped short, and advised me never to go near a water-hole over which a krantz is hanging, for, he says he, “Met zoo een gaat is dit nooit helder nie, baas.” (with such a hole it is never clear, master), and then continues the story.
‘Well, baas, I told you that she stopped at the hole to look at some flowers which were very attractive, and which were drifting near her, till at last one of them came so near that she stooped over the water to pluck it. But she had hardly touched the flower when she was caught by the hand and dragged in the water.
‘Now, as the girl did not come home, her mother went to look for her, and traced her tracks to the hole wherein she had been dragged, and when she saw that the tracks did not go any further, she knew at once that the water women had caught her child, for she was a clever woman. She therefore ran into the veld and gathered some shrubs which she knew the water women were fond of. When she had enough of these shrubs, she ran home, dried them hastily by the fire, and ground them into a fine powder. Then she ran back to the hole, and threw the dust over the water. When she had done this, she went and stood a little way off and waited. She had not waited long when she saw her child coming out of the water and walking towards her. She was unhurt, but the water women had loved her so much that they had licked her cheeks quite white and this remained so ever afterward.
‘She told her mother that the people under water had such fine houses and that they live in great abundance. As I have said, the girl’s mother was a very clever woman, and she had instructed her child from youth how she should behave, and what she should eat if she should fall into the hands of the water women. If they ask you: “What will you eat, fish or meat?” you must say: “I eat neither; give me bread to eat”. If you ask for fish or meat, it will be certain death for you; as the water women are half fish, half flesh, they would think that you would want to eat them.’
The little Karoo’s unofficial bird, the Osrtich’s genetics seems to be just perfectly in tune with the Little Karoo. So much so that we may say it has found it’s ideal habitat within the Little Karoo.
The Ostrich’s diet includes Ganna and many other succulents, Herbs etc. They also have as many sandstones as they can swallow in the Little Karoo. (Sandstones are a big aid to Ostrichs’ digestive systems).