March: Ochre Moon

Ochre, a mixture of ferric oxide, clay and sand, is a natural clay earth pigment which has been mined for millenia by the inhabitants of South Africa. It is and was used for personal decoration by the indigenous peoples of South Africa and was also an important part of the various paints used by the San in their rock art.

Ochre was (and is) used extensively for personal decoration by the indigenous peoples of South Africa. It also formed an important part of the various paints used by the San in their rock art. The archaeological record from Blombos Cave on the Cape south coast contains ochre blocks decorated with geometric patterns and dated to 75,000 years ago, making it one of the earliest finds showing the use of ochre for personal adornment in the history of humans.

Ochre was also an important trade item among the San. Some had clay for making pots, or a good source of poison for arrows, and others redstone (ochre) to smear on the body or to paint with. Exchange took the form of giving presents to each other. Ochre had to be dug out from distant, often inaccessible places and any group who had ochre in their area was rich, because it could be traded with Bushmen living far away and they could name their price.

In the /Xam culture a girl would also paint zebra-like stripes of red-haematite on the young men to protect them from lightning.

Examples of present day traditional uses of ochre are the red blankets of the Xhosa people and the application of a paste of ochre and butter to the hair and skin by the women of the Himba people of northern Namibia.

Place names associated with ochre:

Ochre Hill in the uMkhanyakuda District Municipality of the KwaZulu-Natal Province is a hill on the east coast about 55 km east-south-east of Ubombo.

The first Full Moon in March is the Harvest Moon.

The Ochre Moon does not occur during the period 2020–2050.

Date of Ochre Moon (2050 – 2200)

2056 Mar 31
2067 Mar 30
2132 Mar 31
2143 Mar 31

2162 Mar 31
2181 Mar 31
2200 Mar 31

Further reading

  • Henshilwood, C.S., d’Errico, F. & Watts, I. (2009) Engraved ochres from the middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution, 57(1), 27-47.
  • Hollmann, J. C. (2000) Customs and Beliefs of the /Xam Bushmen. Wits University Press/Ringing Rocks Press.
  • Lewis-Williams, J.D. (2015) Myth and Meaning: San-Bushman Folklore in a Global Context. UCT Press / Juta and Company (Pty) Ltd.
  • Rusch, N. & Low, C. (eds) (2017) Bushman Stories. Volumes 1-4. Gideon Retief von Wielligh. !Khwa ttu & Mantis Books, Cape Town.
  • Wilford, John Noble (October 13, 2011). “African Cave Yields Evidence of a Prehistoric Paint Factory” – via

Heritage Full Moons in South Africa

MonthFirst Full MoonSecond Full Moon
JanuaryMantis MoonLeopard Moon
FebruaryDassie Moon——
MarchHarvest MoonOchre Moon
AprilDiamond MoonGold Moon
MayFrost MoonFire Moon
JuneSisters MoonHoney Moon
JulyMeerkat MoonProtea Moon
AugustPeace MoonDusty Moon
SeptemberSpring MoonBlue Crane Moon
OctoberWhale MoonElephant Moon
NovemberMilk MoonWool Moon
DecemberSpringbok MoonEland Moon

Protecting South Africa’s astronomical heritage

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