San Rock Art
Publication Year: 2013
Taking as his starting point the magnificent Linton panel in the Iziko-South African Museum in Cape Town, J. D. Lewis-Williams examines the artistic and cultural significance of rock art and how this art sheds light on how San image-makers conceived their world. It also details the European encounter with rock art as well as the contentious European interaction with the artists’ descendants, the contemporary San people.
Published by: Ohio University Press
Series: Ohio Short Histories of Africa
Cover, Title Page
1. An ancient tradition in today’s South Africa
Many South Africans are unaware that the central image in their country’s coat of arms derives from a San rock painting (Fig. 1). In 1994 South Africa moved out of the dark decades of apartheid and set out on a new democratic path. It was a time of renewal, and new symbols of unity had...
2. Conflicting perspectives and traditions
The initiation, efflorescence and demise of research perspectives are always situated in specific social circumstances. A history of such perspectives should therefore try to identify the social, political and personal forces that created conditions for their acceptance and, in many instances, eventual...
3. Keys to the past
As I have pointed out, the image that appears in the centre of South Africa’s coat of arms (Fig. 1) is merely a small part of the large, crowded Linton panel (Fig. 2). At first glance, we may think that these apparently jumbled images are all independent of one another. But that idea must be abandoned when we notice that...
4. Threads of light
The duplicated and reversed figure that now stands in the centre of the South African coat of arms is in the lower centre of the Linton panel. That position, of course, results from the way the slab was chiselled from the rock face. The whole panel was but part of a much larger panorama of paintings across the wall...
5. The mind in the brain
I begin this chapter with some varied accounts that Kalahari San shamans have given about the ‘threads of light’ they see during a trance dance or in dreams. These personal testimonies give a vivid idea of what San religious experience was, and still is, like. As with all components of San religion...
6. Capturing the rain
In 1874 Wilhelm Bleek wrote: ‘A Bushman painting will frequently help us to unearth a myth, legend, or fable, which otherwise would have been forgotten, and might have remained unrecorded.’ More than that, he found a two-way pattern of illumination and wrote that what he called San ‘mythology’ and copies of their...
7. Making an image
Today it is still unfortunately easy for those who do not know much about San religious beliefs and rituals to revert to Arbousset and Daumas’s view that San rock paintings were simply ‘innocent playthings’. For some, the very phrase ‘Bushman paintings’ is dismissive. Even if modern viewers...