Rock Art Painting and Engravings.

KhoiKhoi and San tribes South Africa

The 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 theserockart_SAN_2935.jpg (36936 bytes) 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.

SAN_2938.jpg (45113 bytes)The 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 killed.

Also read

bulletIntroduction to African Art
bulletArt and life on the continent
bulletThe history of the African mask
bulletAfrican art painting
bulletMask catalog
bulletSan tribe Hoodia Gordonii




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