Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ancient Bushman Paintings in Zimbabwe


These fantastic Bushmen paintings that I discovered in Zimbabwe may very well date back over 1,000 years. There are some rock paintings estimated by carbon dating to be more than 25,000 years old, a figure which I find incredible.

This is the work of San bushmen probably migrating south under pressure of the Khoikhoi bushmen following close behind with their long-horned cattle. This latter group with their long-horned cattle were called Hottentots.

A fantastic find - Bushmen paintings hidden for centuries
The pictures depicted are a small part of a wide stone “screen” perhaps 30 feet (9 meters) long to a height of 4 ½ feet (1.3 meters). It was an excellent place for these accomplishments. They are sheltered from the sun, the rain and generally everything.

The enormous parent rock lay upon the earth, in shape like a weather-worn brick running east/west. It was liberally pocked by the elements; rain, sun, lightning and wind, frost and great heat for 10,0000 years and more; lichen, rust and grey/green encrusted patches on the exposed surface.

The so-called screen was the result of a freak of nature. An enormous block of granite rock had simply parted from the parental section about half way down and along the full length, leaving a clean smooth soffit that extended four feet (1.2 meters) to the paintings. The piece that had split and dropped was probably the same distance down so forming a perfect platform from which to execute the art work.

Surrounding this wonderful natural studio was a thin woodland of trees of which the co-dominant genera were brachystegia and Isoberlinia. The face on which the paintings were done appeared to be relatively fresh but probably some thousands of years old. This site could well stand for thousands of years – if people don't destroy it with hammer and chisel.

The  San people of Africa
The San are hunter/gatherer people of short stature. The men on average grow to be 5 ft. 3” in height. As I knew them, some were almost naked and others had aquired tattered European clothing. The children were always naked, and all wore ornaments made from skin and hand-made beads of seeds and bone and ostrich shell.

The women in particular had a large deposit of fat in the buttock region – a provision designed to offset lean times. There is among the San a division of labour and the most notable is that men are the hunters while the women, with their grubbing sticks, dig out edible tubers and bulbs, collect fruit and berries and tote their children along wherever they go. With bows and arrows the men go out into the semi-desert areas to hunt animals, even to the size of giraffe. The kill is not caused by deep arrow penetration, but by relatively shallow piercing of the animal's skin and the introduction of a deadly poison from grubs dug from beneath the soil found near certain Commiphera trees. This is applied to the sinew that binds the arrowhead to the shaft. Expert stalking is needed to get close to the proposed victim.

Details of the painting shown
There is much to be seen in the picture, an ambitious array of people, animals and objects. Using the tiny stout bushman figure directly in front of a large Sable antelope as a radial centre, one sees this figure racing towards the antelope with its fancy striped face and backward curving horns. Its lower hindlegs appear to be hidden by the big Kudu antelope still further to the right. Directly above the antelope's head can be seen the figure of a man striding vigorously with a bag slung from his right arm. Halfway from the centre figure towards the top, one sees a warthog and then higher up at the very top is what may be an Impala doe. Particularly enigmatic is the picture between 6 and 9 o'clock. The woman seems to be toting a child. The man carries his bow and arrows and a bundle, suggesting to me that the couple are moving home with their scant possessions. Behind the couple is a long cylindrical object that is probably a tunnel, dug assuredly by an antbear or aardvark clearly visible towards the wide circled end. Halfway along the tunnel, possibly a much earlier picture, is a lion on his haunches facing towards the observer. One needs to look very carefully to see this (I tremble). Beside the lion I discern with difficulty and imagination an object like a cage or big trap. Perhaps on second thoughts this represents stakes pushed into and across the tunnel to trap the antbear. A man crawls down the tunnel on his belly, and further up is another man on hands and knees crawling up. Such tunnels are occasionally used by the true honey bee to build a hive. Smaller tunnels provide shelter for the hive of the distinctive and minute stingless bee, called in the Matabele lingo “gongonchani”. The stingless bees hive is a conglomeration of small pea-like orbs containing an amber honey with a distinctive slightly herbal tast. There are many varieties of stingless bees. They can be maddeningly irritating when they enter by the score ,every exposed origice on one's head in search of moisture.

Near the bottom of the Bushman painting one can see a prone figure with arms stretched towards a bundle. Most peculiar.

One other particularly complex group is very interesting but obscure, and these are two large entities at 9 o' clock.

Post by guest blogger, James Gordon

Photo copyright James Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 26th December, 2010


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