Amathole Rock Art Association outing to Cove Rock

The Amathole Rock Art Association (ARAA) has been revitalised. The association hopes to increase an awareness in the great cultural heritage of the regions rock art and to investigate and document these treasures for future generations. Eastern Cape rock art expert, Victor Biggs, presently chairs the association and Amanda Elizabeth is the secretary. New members are welcome and for more information please contact Amanda at

Yesterday some members of the association headed off to a large aeolianite coastal sandstone promontory traditionally called Gompo Rock and also known locally as Cove Rock. Decalcification of a large portion of the sandstone outcrop has led to pieces breaking away and today part of the ‘rock’ presents as a great natural amphitheatre.


Gompo Rock, situated about 11 km’s south-west of the Buffalo River, is the nexus of things historical, cultural and natural. It features prominently in the human history of the area. Evidence of pre-historical human habitation is present in the form of numerous shell middens , while mention of the Rock is made in shipwreck survivor records dating to the 17th Century.


The Rock has also featured significantly in the religious lives of the Xhosa-speaking people. The Xhosa prophet, Nxele, attempted a mass conversion to Christianity on the Rock in 1817. Paternal spirits, ABANTU BOMLAMBO, are said to reside in the water beneath the Rock. These ancestral beings rule over the spirit world of the water. They are believed to be immune to sharks and live on fish, water and sand. When stormy seas chase through the cavernous openings in the rock, the water reverberates and the local people comment that the chiefs are talking on their drums. Apparently they are served by a great water monitor (lizard) which  transports fresh cow dung from the hills. This is collected by the People at the water’s edge before taking it to their caves to smear on the floor and walls.

Treasures from the sea, gathered from many shipwrecks (which have washed up in the area) are also believed to be kept in the caves of Gompo.


In January 2000 museum scientist, Kevin Cole, and museum anthropologist, Geraldine Morcom signed off on a motivation by the East London Museum to have Cove Rock (Gompo)  declared a heritage site. Discussions will be held again with interested and affected parties to re-consider this proposal and the ARAA will have the matter tabled at one of its meetings in the near future.


As a natural feature, Cove Rock is a unique sandstone headland with good examples of wave-cut platforms and a classic half-heart bay adjacent to  a large mobile dune field (a breeding site for the African Black Oystercatcher). Landward the dune vegetation is part of a  protected State forest.

Members of the African Independent Churches still meet and baptise in the vicinity of Cove Rock and Gompo Town part of the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality derives its name from the Rock.

About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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