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44 2 Tracing rock art in the field with Helen Tongue, 1905–1907 The walls of this long cave are covered with paintings. Here have been dances, processions, weird dressed-up figures, pictures with ornamented background, hunts; in short, a whole panorama of scenes from Bushman life.1 Dorothea Bleek and fellow teacher Helen Tongue made this observation , probably in the summer of 1905–1906, during a trip through the mountains of south-eastern southern Africa. The young women were on a rock art copying expedition that had brought them to this cave in the Malotis. They followed, in some instances, in the footsteps of George Stow, who had trod nearby ground with a similar mission in mind some 40 years earlier. What they saw on the rock walls before them underlined the urgency of their task.In the co-published book published just four years later, Dorothea wrote of the damage that had been done to the painting, commenting that ‘native herd boys have chipped at these paintings with stones, wherever they could reach them, and spoilt them, as no mere rubbing of sheep or cattle could do. Most are so effaced that to trace them was out of the question.We could only make out just enough to regret most bitterly the impossibility of restoring the whole.’2 Helen and Dorothea had travelled ‘five hours’ from Maseru (passing Roma, the‘chief station of the Roman Catholic missionaries in Basutoland’) to reach this rock shelter, where they worked through an afternoon thunderstorm . ‘The rain poured down in torrents, but not a drop touched us in the cave,’ Dorothea wrote later.3 The researchers had to pile up stones in order to reach paintings that had not been damaged. They carried out their copyingworkwatchedbyacrowdofcuriouslocalpeople,describedlateras‘an attentive audience of four Basuto men, two youths and ten pickaninnies’ Book 1.indb 44 10/12/15 10:57 AM T R AC I N G R O C K A RT I N T H E F I E L D W I T H H E L E N TO N G U E , 1 9 0 5 – 1 9 0 7 45 who had followed them from the village.4 The site was on the slopes of a peak known as ‘Mochacha’, one of the highest in the foothills of the Malotis, ‘close to the village of Theko’. It was located on a well-traversed route that was known to other copyists, including the French artist and Protestant missionary Frédéric Christol, who had left in the cave ‘the mangled remains of a drawing of archers’ he had copied and published several years previously.5 Now, sadly, Dorothea and Helen found the group ‘past tracing’.6 This was the second of two sites the young women visited in the then Basutoland (now Lesotho). The other was much easier to reach, being ‘past Teyateyaneng, near the ruins of Advance Post’ (Figures 2.1 and 2.2). Dorothea wrote of a smooth slab of rock inside a cave‘which has been used over and over again by succeeding generations of artists’.7 The artwork was now only faintly discernible to the naked eye – Dorothea recorded that the ‘oldest paintings [were] quite impossible to trace’. Yet they formed ‘a sort of iridescent background’ to the two uppermost layers that were still visible . It was here that Dorothea was able to draw on her intellectual legacy to interpret some of the painted scenes she saw before her. At Advance Post, Helen and Dorothea saw what they described as a ‘frog transformation picture’. The ‘figure in the middle’ was ‘like a frog, but with horns; the side figures, stooping and kneeling’, were ‘more human’. 8 In the same shelter Dorothea copied a small group of figures that she thought illustrated the final scene in her father’s tale of the mantis and the dead hartebeest: To frighten some children, the Mantis assumes the appearance of a dead hartebeest, which is found and cut up by the children – they attempt to carry it home in pieces – the parts move – the head speaks – the different members are dropped by the alarmed children and form again into a whole; the Mantis , who has now resumed his own shape, chases the children – they escape.9 Dorothea believed the painted group was a representation of the children escaping from the trickster deity (Figure 2.2). ‘This jaunty figure has just the harmless and vain air one associates with /Kaggen...


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