vast proportion of rock paintings and engravings from South Africa are
the work of the San (One of South Africa's oldest tribes) Some elements
such as hand prints could possibly be from the Khoikhoi
It was originally believed that the
reasons for these
numerous paintings and engravings were to be found in man's innate
desire to express himself in some way - art for art's sake - or in the
need to exert some form of magical control over the animals portrayed in
art. Current research has shown that a great deal of this art is related
to the trance-dancing which formed, and indeed still forms, an important
part of the San response to environmental pressures.
The medicine man in trance was the
important link between the world of the spirits and the everyday world
in which the people live. During trance, many duties such as healing of
the sick, communication with the spirit world, information gathering and
divination, were carried out and were formally communicated to the group
through the medium of painting or engraving.
The images which the medicine man saw
during the trance state were painted on the rock face and do not
represent reality in many cases. Thus we find illustrations of men with
animal attributes such as horns or hoofs. These does not portray a man
in animal skin disguise but represent the imagined change which the
medicine man undergoes while in the trance state. Generally, medicine
men involved in good deeds were said to adopt the form of one of the
antelope - usually the eland, hartebeest or rhebok, while those bent on
harming others would adopt the form of one of the large predators.
arrival of white settlers resulted in a dramatic change of life style
for the San tribe; this was evident in their art. As a result
cattle began to replace the eland as the 'good' symbols and towards the
end guns started replacing predators as symbols of evil and aggression.
It is thought that the earliest
paintings were monochromes (single color) then two colors and finally
multi-colored, often shaded works found in the Drakensberg. However,
this development was probably inspired by the growing complexity of the
rituals needed to cope with an increasingly stressful existence forced
on the San by the arrival of the white settlers.
The pigments used were oxides of iron
for the range of reds and yellows, manganese dioxide for black, and
various compounds of calcium or magnesium for white. To produce paint,
the khoisan probably mixed these pigments with a binding agent such as
albumen (egg white), plant sap, urine or even blood. The paint was
applied in a variety of ways using feathers, sticks or fingers to
produce the desired result.
It is almost impossible to date rock
art but research has shown that the earliest paintings recovered from an
excavation in Namibia are between 25000 and 27000 years old. The art
tradition ended in mid-19th century when most of the San people was