Saturday, June 2, 2007
Ancient African and African Empires Timeline
Ancient Africa & African empires timeline
New Crisis, The, Jan/Feb 2000 by Agatucci, Cora
Great ancient African civilizations, in their day, were just as splendid and glorious as any on the face of the earth.
5-2.5 million B.C.E.
Fossils, rocks, ancient skeletal remains have been uncovered in the Rift Valley and surrounding areas. Evidence points to a common human ancestry originating in Africa from the emergence of a humanlike species in eastern Africa some 5 million years ago. From Hadar, Ethiopia, the 3.18 million year-old remains of "Lucy" were unearthed in 1974.
African art treasure returned...
U.S. exhibit on ancient North...
Make an African rainstick -...
The African collection at the...
600,000 - 200,000
Wide spread of species across Asia, Europe, and Africa. Fire use develops. The earliest true human beings in Africa, Homo sapiens, date from more than 200,000 years ago. Hunter-gatherers capable of making crude stone tools, Homo Sapiens banded together with others to form nomadic groups; eventually these nomadic peoples spread throughout the African continent. Discoveries suggest Africa was the primary genecenter for cultivated plants like cotton, sorghum, watermelon, kola-nuts and coffee, and was the first site of the domestication of certain plants for food.
Rock art of North and South Africa
6000 - 4000
The River People emerge along Nile, Niger, and Congo Rivers (West-Central Africa); the Isonghee of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) introduce the mathematical abacus; and Cyclopian stone tombs built in Central African Republic area. Spread of agriculture south of the Sahara Desert supports a growing population, which mastered animal domestication and agriculture, and forced older nomadic groups (such as the San) into less hospitable areas.
Ancient Egyptians begin using burial texts to accompany their dead, first known written documents. Ancient Egyptians, who called their land Kemet[or Kmt] (Land of the Blacks) and Ta-Meri (Beloved Land), were primarily agriculturists who, with the practice of irrigation and animal husbandry, transformed the Nile Valley into a vibrant food-producing economy by 5000 B.C.E. Their settled lifestyle allowed them to develop skills in glass making, pottery, metallurgy, weaving, woodworking, leather work, and masonry. In this latter craft, ancient Egyptian practitioners excelled in architecture, as the pyramids attest.
4000 - 1000
Ancient African civilizations of the Nile Valley are established and flourish. Ancient Egyptians traced their origins to the Mount Rwenzori range in East Africa known as the "Mountains of the Moon," and in some accounts to "Ethiopia," a term variously designating land south of Egypt (the Upper Nile Valley), or the entire African continent. Thus Nubia, Egypt's southern neighbor with its own civilization, probably preceded Egyptian (Kemet) civilization.
Centers of early civilization flourish in Mesopotamia, Egypt, northeastern India, and northern China.
The African-Egyptian Question: Most of us in the West are familiar with ancient Egyptian civilization and its achievements (e.g., the pyramids) as one of the cradles of [Western] civilization. Yet it is important to remember that Egypt is in Africa and that ancient Kemet (as the ancient Egyptians called their kingdom, a term dating from ca. 3100 B.C.E.) is also the cradle of Black African civilization.
A subject of heated contemporary debate is the ethnicity and/or color of the ancient Egyptians, and Africanist scholars like Molefi Kete Asante and Abu S. Abarry observe that the more [ancient] Egypt is seen as a society of significance to human civilization, the more its [black African] origins are disputed by some white scholars." They claim that racist sentiments have led "revisionist historians of the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, the age of the European slave trade [and European colonization of Africa], to discredit Africans, to explain away the African base" of ancient Egypt, "and to accredit all African achievement to the presence of European genes." It is well to note that the ancient Greeks described the way the Egyptians looked to them: "The ancient Greek writers Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Aristotle all testified that the ancient Egyptians were 'blackskinned (Asante and Abarry 3-4).
The African-Egyptian Question II: Asante and Abarry are among Africanist scholars who maintain that African "civilization as expressed from the ancient cultures of the Nile Valley [e.g. Egypt/Kemet, Nubia/Kush), have tied together the diverse peoples of the continent and the Diaspora [*definition below] in ways that distinguish Africans from Europeans or Asians"-although one must be careful not "to assume too much commonality" among African cultures and societies, each "unique, having developed its own orientation to the universe and the physical environment in its concepts of religion, science, art, and politics."
Nevertheless, in "the practical experiences of African peoples" across the continent today these scholars trace the continuation of "ancient myths and beliefs in resurrection and life, reincarnation, matrilineality [lineage traced through the "mothers"], burial of the dead, the value of children, the ultimate goodness of the earth" (Asante and Abarry 111 ), as well as reverence for the ancestors believed part of the living human community-a worldview integrating past and future into the present.
Labels: African Timeline
The San - African Bushmen - II
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Regions with significant populations|
|Botswana (55,000), Namibia (27,000)|
|Various Khoisan languages|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Khoikhoi, Xhosa, Zulu, Griqua|
The Bushmen, San, Basarwa or Khwe are indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert, which spans areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. They were traditionally hunter-gatherers, part of the Khoisan group, and are related to the traditionally pastoral Khoikhoi. Starting in the 1950s through the 1990s they switched to farming, with only minor hunting and gathering activities. Archaeological evidence suggests that they have lived in southern Africa (and probably other areas of Africa) for at least 22,000 years but probably much longer. Genetic evidence suggests they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world — a "genetic Adam" according to Spencer Wells, from which all humans can ultimately trace their genetic heritage.
The terms San, Khwe, Bushmen, and Basarwa have all been used to refer to hunter-gatherer peoples of southern Africa. Each of these terms has a problematic history, as they have been used by outsiders to refer to them, often with pejorative connotations. The individual groups identify by names such as Ju/’hoansi and !Kung (the punctuation characters representing different clicks), and most call themselves "Bushmen" when referring to themselves collectively.
The term "San" was historically applied by their ethnic relatives and historic rivals, the Khoikhoi. This term means "outsider" in the Nama language and was derogatory because it distinguished the Bushmen from what the Khoikhoi called themselves, namely the First People. Western anthropologists adopted "San" extensively in the 1970s, where it remains preferred in academic circles. The term "Bushmen" is widely used, but opinions vary on whether it is appropriate – given that the term is sometimes viewed as pejorative.
In South Africa, the term "San" has become favored in official contexts, being included in the blazon of the new national coat-of-arms. In South Africa "Bushman" is considered derogatory by some groups. Angola does not have an official term for Bushmen, but they are sometimes referred to as Bushmen, Kwankhala, or Bosquímanos (the Portuguese term for Bushmen). Neither Zambia nor Zimbabwe have official terms, although in the latter case the terms Amasili and Batwa are sometimes used.  In Botswana, the officially used term is Basarwa, where it is partially acceptable to some Bushmen groups, although Basarwa, a Tswana language label, also has negative connotations. The term used to be used in the plural, "Masarwa," but this is now almost universally considered offensive.
Relocation and government persecution
Since the mid-1990s the central government of Botswana has been trying to move Bushmen out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve even though the national constitution guarantees the Bushmen the right to live there in perpetuity. The Game Reserve was originally created in 1961 to protect the 5,000 Bushmen living there who were being persecuted by farmers and cattle-rearing tribes. The government's position is that it is too costly to provide even such basic services as medical care and schooling, despite the reserve's tourism revenues. It has banned hunting with guns in the reserve and has said that the Bushmen threaten the reserves ecology. Others, however, claim that the government's intent is to clear the area – an area the size of Denmark – for the lucrative tourist trade and for diamond mining. As of October 2005, the government has resumed its policy of forcing all Bushmen off their lands in the Game Reserve, using armed police and threats of violence or death. Many of the involuntarily displaced Bushmen live in squalid resettlement camps and some have resorted to prostitution, while about 250 others remain or have surreptitiously returned to the Kalahari to resume their independent lifestyle.
The group as a whole has little voice in the national political process and is not one of the tribal groups recognized in the constitution of Botswana. Over the generations, the Bushmen of South Africa have continued to be absorbed into the African population, particularly the Griqua sub-group, which is an Afrikaans-speaking people of predominantly Khoisan that has certain unique cultural markers that set them apart from the rest of the Africans.
On December 13, 2006, the Bushmen won an historic ruling in their long-running court case against the government. By a 2-1 majority, the court said the refusal to allow the Basarwa into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) without a permit was "unlawful and unconstitutional." It also said the state's refusal to issue special game licenses to allow the Bushmen to hunt was "unlawful" and "unconstitutional" and found that the Bushmen were "forcibly and wrongly deprived of their possessions" by the government. However, the court did not compel the government to provide services such as water to any Bushmen who returned to the reserve. More than one thousand Bushmen intend to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of Africa's largest protected nature reserves.
The Bushman kinship system reflects their interdependence as traditionally small, mobile foraging bands. Also, the kinship system is comparable to the Eskimo Kinship system, with the same set of terms as in Western countries, and also employ a name rule and an age rule. The age rule resolves any confusion arising around kinship terms, because the older of two people always decides what to call the younger. According to the name rule, if any two people have the same name, for example an old man and a young man both named /Twi, each family uses the same kin term to refer to them: Young /Twi's mother could call Old /Twi "son", Old /Twi would address young /Twi's sister as his own, Young /Twi would call Old /Twi's wife "wife", and Old /Twi's daughter would be strictly forbidden to Young /Twi as a potential bride. Since relatively few names circulate, and each child is named for a grandparent or other relative, Bushmen are guaranteed an enormous family group with whom they are welcome to travel.
Traditional gathering gear is simple and effective: a hide sling, blanket, and cloak called a kaross to carry foodstuffs, firewood, or young children, smaller bags, a digging stick, and perhaps a smaller version of the kaross to carry a baby. Women and men would gather, and men hunted using poison arrows and spears in laborious days-long excursions.
Villages ranged in sturdiness from nightly rain shelters in the warm spring, when people moved constantly in search of budding greens, to formalized rings when they congregated in the dry season around the only permanent waterholes. Early spring, a hot dry period following a cool dry winter, was the hardest season, after autumn nuts were exhausted, villages concentrated around waterholes, and most plants were dead or dormant. Meat was most important in the dry months, when wildlife could never range far from receding waters.
Traditionally the San possessed no status hierarchies. They had no "chief" but instead made decisions among themselves, on a consensus basis. Women's status was relatively equal. Women did not begin bearing children until about 18 or 19 years of age due to late first menstruation due to the low calorie and low fat diet  and had them spaced four years apart, due to lack of enough breast milk to feed more than one child at a time , and the requirements of mobility leading to the difficulty of carrying more than one child at a time.
Children were very well behaved and treated kindly by the their parents and group. Children spent much of the day playing with each other and are not segregated by sex, neither sex is trained to be submissive or fierce, and neither sex is restrained from expressing the full breadth of emotion that seems inherent in the human spirit" .
Bushmen had an advanced early culture evidenced by archaeological data. For example, Bushmen from the Botswana region migrated south to the Waterberg Massif in the era 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. They left rock paintings at the Lapala Wilderness area and Goudriver recording their life and times, including characterizations of rhinoceros, elephant and a variety of antelope species (resembling impala, kudu and eland, all present day inhabitants).
In the media
The Bushmen of the Kalahari were first brought to the Western world's attention in the 1950s by South African author Laurens van der Post with the famous book The Lost World of the Kalahari, which was also a BBC TV series.
John Marshall documented the lives of Bushmen in the Nyae Nyae region of Namibia over more than a 50-year period. His early film The Hunters, released in 1957, shows a giraffe hunt during the 1950s. N!Ai: The Story of a !Kung Woman (1980) is the account of a woman who grew up while the Bushmen were living as autonomous hunter-gatherers and was later forced into a dependent life in the government created community at Tsumkwe. A Kalahari Family (2002) is a five-part, six-hour series documenting 50 years in the lives of the Ju/’hoansi of Southern Africa, from 1951 to 2000. Marshall was a fierce and vocal proponent of the Bushman cause throughout his life, which was, in part, due to strong kinship ties, and had a Bushmen wife in his early 20s.
In Wilbur Smith's The Burning Shore, the San people are portrayed through two major characters, O'wa and H'ani, and the Bushmen's struggles, history and beliefs are touched upon in great detail. The Burning Shore is a volume in the Courtney's of Africa series.
PBS's series How Art Made the World compares San cave painting 200 years ago to Paleolithic European painting 14,000 years old. Because of their similarities, the San can help us understand the reasons for ancient cave paintings. Lewis Williams believes that their trance states (traveling to the spirit world) are directly related to the reasons people went deep into caves, experienced sensory deprivation, and painted their visions onto the cave walls.
Spencer Wells' 2003 book The Journey of Man—in connection with National Geographic's Genographic Project—discusses a genetic analysis of the San and asserts their blood contains the oldest genetic markers found on earth, making the Bushmen humankind's "genetic Adam". These genetic markers are present on the y chromosome and are therefore passed down through thousands of generations in a relatively pure form. The documentary continues to trace these markers throughout the world, demonstrating that all of humankind can be traced back to the African continent and that the San are the last, most genetically unadulterated, remnant of humankind's ancient ancestors.
- Autshumato ("Harry")
- Krotoa ("Eva") Pikki pikki what was a famous tribe.
- N!xau starred in several films based off and including The Gods Must Be Crazy.
- ^ Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (2006). The Old Way. ISBN 0374225524. Chapter 20 "The Present".
- ^ Spencer Wells (2003). The Journey of Man. ISBN 069111532X. Pg. 56-58
- ^ a b Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (2006). The Old Way. Chapter "About Words and Names". ISBN 0374225524.
- ^ Sailer, S (2002). Name Game Inuit or Eskimo. Retrieved on 2006-11-15.
- ^ "Wrong Term for the Kalahari's People", Washington Post, 7 June, 2005
- ^ a b Hitchcock, Robert K., and Megan Biesele. "San, Khwe, Basarwa, or Bushmen?: Terminology, Identity, and Empowerment in Southern Africa." Kalahari Peoples Fund. 28 December 2000
- ^ Botswana Gov. - Basarwa Relocation - Intro
- ^ Bushmen forced out of desert after living off land for thousands of years. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved on 2005-10-29.
- ^ Botswana's bushmen get Kalahari lands back. CNN. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
- ^ Marjorie Shostak, 1983, Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. New York: Vintage Books. Page 10.
- Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (2006). The Old Way: A Story of the First People.
- Marjorie Shostak (1983). Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. New York: Vintage Books.
- Nancy Howell. (1979). Demography of the Dobe !Kung. New York: Academic Press.
- Richard Lee and Irvin DeVore (1999). Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: Studies of the !Kung San & Their Neighbors. iUniverse.
- Robert J. Gordon (1999). The Bushman Myth: The Making of a Namibian Underclass. ISBN 0813335817.
- Official Botswana Government Website
- Survival International
- National Geographic
- Photo Gallery of Bushmanland, Namibia Over 200 photographs of Ju/'hoansi Bushmen and landscape
- Bleek and Lloyd Archive of xam and !kun texts online
- Specimens of Bushmen folklore - tales collected by Bleek and Lloyd
- The San Trickster God meets the Ideology of the West: Exploring the Implications of Interpretation among San and European Relations in Southern Africa
- The myth of ritual origins? Ethnography, mythology and interpretation of San rock art by Dr Anne Solomon (South African Archaeological Bulletin, June 1997)
- The Kalahari Peoples Fund
- Scientific American - Offerings to a Stone Snake Provide the Earliest Evidence of Religion by J. R. Minkel 01/12/06
Labels: The San African Bushmen - II
The San - African Bushmen- I
One of the greatest cultural experiences in Southern Africa (or the world for that matter) is to gaze upon the tragically beautiful rock art left us by the diminutive and peaceful hunter-gatherers collectively known as the San or 'Bushmen'. The San, who were the sole inhabitants of the region for 118,000 years, have all but ceased to exist as a distinct cultural group, but they live on in their mysterious rock art.
The San used a variety of pigments, minerals, and animal and plant materials to produce the rich colors that characterize their art. The subjects are religious. The art comprises symbols of supernatural potency, metaphors of trance experience, and hallucinations experienced by people in trance. It is not simply a narrative of stone-age life, it is deeply symbolic and mythical, and provides us with wonderful insight into these highly spiritual people.>>>>>>>
The exquisitely artistry and sensitivity of the San rock art belies the label "inferior" and "savages" applied to these primitive peoples of long ago. Aggrieved Historian
The myth of ritual origins? Ethnography, mythology and interpretation of San rock art
“The [dead] sorceror goes to carry off a person whom he wants from here. It is his magic power which goes to carry off this man from here. We wonder why this person seems about to die: for we are those who do not know, we think thus. One sorceror who knows, understands that it is another sorceror whose charm is trying to carry off the person. He says to us, that we seem to think it is illness of which the person lies dying. But it is enchantment that is killing him. Then we see that the man seems dying, they do not think he will die. Then one sorceror will do this to the other sorceror who has bewitched us, he will snore him out of us. He makes the other go from the place out of which he snores him. He kills the other who has bewitched us. He strikes him dead with a stone; as he strikes him, he says “This man has been going about killing people” [followed by details of the battle]...As he is beating him away he says “may that man go to the spirits [/nu:ke] who are always killing people. He has only wanted to come here, in order to kill and carry off people”... [Then the curer] “made the other sorceror come out of the man” (DF Bleek 1935:32-33; my parentheses).
This and other references (e.g. DF Bleek 1935:20) distinguish between “sorcerors” and “other sorcerors”, illustrating the general nature of the term !gi:xa and its contextual reference to either curers or spirits of the dead who have “possessed” someone and caused illness. The failure of researchers to distinguish between them is a question of temporal conflation; but this same temporal conflation is made by the /Xam. Dead people are not only in the past, but also in the present; “the past” appears to be “locativised” (or spatially conceptualised), as the nether realm of the dead. The temporal scheme is not linear in the western sense of past-present-future. This analysis is crucial for understanding the relevance of mythology, and its bearing on the rock art.
Mythology, religion, rock art and histories
San mythology may be seen not just as a set of religious beliefs, but also as an indigenous history, incorporating culturally specific spatial and temporal schemata (cf. Solomon (1995) on phenomenological approaches to time and rock art, and the linear notions of time and history which permeate archaeological thinking). The San temporal scheme seems to centre on notions of the living and the dead; yet this scheme is also locativised, or conceptualised in spatial terms (underwater and the underworld). Mythology (rather than trance) embodies the spatio-temporal “map”. The theme of reversion in stories featuring !Khwa and a female initiate of the early race illustrates this (drowned peoples’ possessions revert to an unworked state, etc.; see above). Ideas about reversion may be related directly to beliefs about the people of the early race, who were considered “primitive”, uncultured, uncivilised and ignorant. Descent into the water hole is conceptualised both as “death” and as a passage into “the past”, the underworld of the spirits of the dead. Both Qing’s and Dia!kwain’s comments on the Lesotho therianthrope paintings suggest that the “First Bushmen” or people of the early race are also inhabitants of this underworld, or underwater; they are San “ancestors”, who are now dead, and as spirits dwell underground (or underwater), surfacing in various forms in order to enact their magic on the living. A key parallel between the spirits of dead people and the ancestral San is their capacity to be both human and animal; on the basis of Dia!kwain’s comments, the spirits of dead beings with magical powers may well be both (or either) the mythical ancestral San or people (especially curers) who have died but continue to influence the living in the present.
In terms of such a reading, the explanations of therianthropes given by Qing and Dia!kwain, and their references to the mythology, are easily comprehensible. The therianthropic figures are not necessarily shamans, as has commonly been argued; they may be either the spirits of dead people who were considered powerful while alive, or the spirits of the ancestral San (in ancestral -i.e. therianthropic - form). The references to death, underwater and the spoiling of the eland are all explicable from this perspective: the therianthropes can indeed be men who have died and now live in rivers, and were spoilt at the same time as the eland, rather than products of hallucinatory experience.
Beliefs about mortality and life after death, and their spatio-temporal forms allow Qing’s comments about the trance dance to be accommodated, in terms of the notion of temporal conflation. Trancers believe they are travelling to the mythological “past” and the realm of the dead; present and past are inseparable. When Qing said that the rhebok-headed men had been “spoilt at the same time as the elands and by the dances...” he may have been referring to the trance-battles waged by curers with the illness-causing spirits (cf. Dia!kwain’s account (above) of the /Xam curer “beating” the “other sorceror”), or to the experience of trance as temporal reversion, and a journey into the past (or both).
Even Qing’s puzzling identification of the Mangolong [Sehonghong] herbivore-like rain animal as a “snake” can be understood, in relation to these beliefs, resolving what Lewis-Williams (1980:470) considered a “serious disagreement” between the comments of the two nineteenth century San commentators. The death-giver appears in various forms: amongst the /Xam, primarily as a rain animal or eland (e.g. Bleek and Lloyd *); amongst the Kua as a snake living in the water. Either the death-giver may assume various forms, including both rain animals and snakes, or else his primary form differed between the Lesotho San and the /Xam. A third possibility relates to interactions between San and neighbours, as Lewis-Williams (1980:470) suggested. In terms of the arguments put forward by Jolly (1994, 1995, 1996), dominant cultures tend to impose their terminology; given that the Kua account refers to the death-giver with the non-San word “xonjapa” it may be that the herbivorous rain animal was the death-giver’s older form, which mutated into a snake in contact situations (although the /Xam described also snakes and other reptiles as “belonging” to !Khwa (DF Bleek 1933a:303); the association of reptiles (less advanced animals) with the rain seems to relate to the temporal themes which link underwater, reversion and primitivity.
The interpretation advanced here, which incorporates mythology and historicises and contextualises San testimonies, satisfies the criteria outlined by Lewis-Williams (1983, 1984, 1985:49-50): verifiability, compatibiity with well-established anthropological theory, internal consistency, compatibility with relevant ethnography, diversity of data explained and heuristic potential. The complex of beliefs and the model I have outlined form the basis of a new approach to understanding San art. Such an approach permits incorporation of a far wider range of San beliefs, ranging from the n!ow complex (which links ideas about birth, death, weather, gender, !Khwa, initiation and illness) to beliefs about stars, to notions of space, time and history.
Some iconographical and analytical implications
According to the shamanistic model, the rock art imagery originates in universally experienced hallucinatory forms, seen and then “construed” in culturally specific ways by trancers or shamans (e.g. Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1988; Lewis-Williams 1995). In terms of the analysis offered here, where mythology and cosmology are accorded more importance, the “trance metaphors” underpinning the notion that art has a significant hallucinatory component cannot simply be accepted. Therefore, a range of images which have been interpreted as hallucinatory or relating to shamanic experiences may be re-examined.
In particular, claims that therianthropes represent shamans are problematic. Proponents of the dominant model argue that they represent shamans “fused” in trance experience with animals of potency, or species which they “possess”, or over which they have magical control. However, a stronger case can be made for therianthropes as in the first instance, spirits of the dead (as both Woodhouse (1974) and Pager (1975) proposed long ago) or as mythical ancestors. In most cases, the notion of “possession” does not refer to live shamans’ control over game, but to the model of illness, and the deleterious effect that the spirits may have on the health of the living. This does not mean that shamans or curers were not painted; Lewis-Williams and Dowson’s interpretations of certain figures bleeding from the nose as curers who sniff or “snore” out illness is unquestionably valid. Nevertheless, the notion that the imagery arises in shamanic visions is problematic (see below).
On the same basis, underwater imagery - including fish, crabs and the like (Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1989; Ouzman 1995) - cannot simplistically be interpreted as deriving from hallucinatory experience; rather it is rooted in a fundamental (Khoi)San spatio-temporal frame, and allied forms of beliefs about mortality and life after death. By the same token, images of people and animals who seem to be dead cannot automatically be interpreted as shamans. While the possibility remains that some images depict the shaman’s trance experiences of transformation, in the light of the above analysis, this claim must be argued in each instance; it seems more likely that images of death and dying refer to mortality rather than trance. The figures which have come to be understood as “trance buck” also require re-examination as perhaps relating to the spirits or ancestors.
Because of frequency of depiction, painted and engraved eland have long received especial attention (e.g. Vinnicombe 1976; Lewis-Williams 1981). Lewis-Williams has argued that “painted eland are symbols of the potency shamans harness to enter trance” (e.g. 1987:171; and cf. 1980,1981). Whereas this may be so in a general or secondary sense, it may equally be argued that it was the eland’s mythological, rather than ritual significance that made it a favoured subject for San artists - as Vinnicombe (1976) suggested. Images of felines also require re-interpretation. Lewis-Williams (1985; 1991) interprets them in trance terms, as living curers going on out-of-body travel or in altered states. Images of lions may well represent dead curers; but again, the key word is “dead” - best understood in a literal rather than metaphoric sense (cf. the account (above) of the “man” in lion’s form who was shot after killing a white farmer’s ox).
The implications of a model which assigns greater importance to mythology and the San spirits and ancestors are multiple; a detailed analysis, in which this model is applied to a series of painted sites and panels is in preparation but beyond the scope of the present paper, which is concerned first and foremost with the ethnographic basis of San rock art interpretation and the utility of the hallucinatory emphasis in the shamanistic model.
Theoretical and methodological implications
The world-wide impact of structuralism in rock art research since the nineteen sixties has been considerable. This was also true of South African rock art research: two of the classics works on the art (viz. Vinnicombe 1976, Lewis-Williams 1981) drew heavily on structuralist theory and method. Lewis-Williams (1980, 1981) in particular introduced important theoretical innovations, including, inter alia, a shift from linguistic structuralism to semiotic analysis (Lewis-Williams 1981), the introduction of a rudimentary hermeneutic approach (Lewis-Williams 1981), structural-marxist interpretation (Lewis-Williams 1982) and a trenchant and enduring critique of empiricism (Lewis-Williams 1983, 1984). Despite the ongoing theoretical innovations introduced via the shamanistic model, aspects of it are deeply rooted in structuralist notions that are now considered problematic - including issues of historicity and synchronic analysis, and, especially, the notion of universal “deep structures”, or structures of which culture is the surface expression (Levi-Strauss 1963). This notion is variously articulated in the shamanistic model, most obviously in the idea that the production of visual imagery is, at base, a product of neurological structures common to all anatomically modern humans. This echoes Levi-Strauss emphasis on universal categories, while those aspects of the model which emphasise “neuropsychology”, the culturally specific construal of hallucinatory forms and the role of the individual invite comparison with the shift in Levi-Strauss’ later work on myth and symbolism towards examining “the free operation of the mind” (Seymour-Smith:1987:270).
It seems to me that there is a connection between notions of “deep structure” and various arguments proposed by the shamanists. The notion of universally experienced, hallucinatory “form constants’ and the like are essentially structuralist in affiliation, and have implications for the modes of argumentation employed. The notion of universals permits the generalisation of the analysis of one or a few images or panels to the rock art of southern Africa in general (and indeed the art of other continents). The notion of deep structure also relates to the central role of metaphor, where ethnographic statements (such as Qing’s) are said to represent something else, a “deeper” meaning which must be expertly excavated. I have argued above that both strategies may be questionable. Qing’s alleged “metaphors” are explicable at a “surface level” if the context of analysis is extended to incorporate mythology. And, while the death=trance metaphor seems valid in certain narrow contexts, generalising such interpretations is methodologically problematic. Hence, interpretations of shamans (or dead figures or whatever) must be argued for each case in context, since it cannot be assumed that all therianthropes (or dead figures) are trancers, regardless of their location in specific sites, panels or juxtapositions.
The art historical notion of site specificity has been invoked by Skotnes (1994) in a somewhat different vein. Skotnes argues that, since the rock face or ground is not neutral (cf. Schapiro 1969, Solomon 1989, Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1990), imagery and compositions need to be considered in relation to the specific site in which they occur. In a related argument, I propose that the iconography of San art requires site specific attention, rather than interpretation by generalisation. This relates to problems with structuralist notions of rule, rather than practice. While it seems clear that aspects of San thought and art are widespread, conventionalised and rule- (or principle-) governed, emphases on general underlying structural principles, and generalised modes of interpretation preclude understanding of diversity in the art, on scales ranging from site to continent. The centrality accorded to trance and shamanic visions tends to impose blanket explanations, and prioritise the role of the shaman-artist. Rather, the contexts of image-making may be disaggregated. If the shaman and his/her visions are not seen as the origin of artistic production, it may be posited that not only shamans painted, and that not all sites are directly related to curing rituals. By scaling down the primacy of the shaman in visualisation and image production, the likelihood of the diversity of the art arising in multiple contexts becomes a topic for investigation.
In anthropological, archaeological or sociological terms, the notion of site specificity may be used in other ways. For example, on the basis of the view that the shamanistic model subordinates gender, as an identity factor which precedes trance experience, I have considered sites with predominantly female or feminine figures, in relation to the corpus of narratives and lore concerning female initiation (e.g. Solomon 1992b; 1995). Some sites or panels in the south western Cape and elsewhere may be related to female initiation practices (rather than curing rituals). Although such an approach is complicated by the massive difficulties of dating, and of distinguishing painting episodes, I have suggested that considering single sites or panels in relation to the various foci of San thought and social life is preferable to recourse to inflexible, over-arching structuralist generalisations and quasi-universals. As such, considerations of sites as wholes is an improvement on the method of selecting “relevant” imagery from complex and sometimes heavily palimpsested art sites. I have implied above that the ethnographic method has given insufficient consideration to the contexts of oral testimony; the same applies to the images on the rocks. More attention needs to be paid to site particulars and to scales of analysis; this is crucial to understanding the regional, temporal and historical diversity in the art that the shamanistic model cannot properly accommodate.
Problems of ahistoricity are, of course, not solely determined by synchronic structural analysis, but are also a function of the problems of dating the art. Nevertheless, an approach which prioritises mythology makes some contribution to the issue. Because the shamanistic model takes little account of San mythology and art as indigenous historical and temporal “texts”, differences among northern and southern San beliefs are subordinated in favour of similarities, regardless of scales of analysis. Lewis-Williams and Dowson (1994:207) acknowledge problems with the concept of a “pan-San cosmology”. The problem, however, does not lie in the demonstrable reality of strikingly similar belief sets, but the way in which these are mobilised to understand the art. As I suggested above, it is slippage between the general and the specific that is problematic in the ethnographic method in rock art research, rather than the ethnographic method itself. “Ethnographic methods”, as they have developed since the nineteenth century, are of ongoing value in rock art research. This extends from Stow’s interpretations of the rock art in relation to myth and ritual (e.g. Stow 1905:29, 120-121) to Vinnicombe and Lewis-Williams’ erudite analyses linking Drakensberg and Kalahari materials. Nevertheless, the tendency of ethnography-based methods to homogenise “the San” and to subordinate time, process and historically situated practice requires ongoing evaluation in the light of changing knowledge in rock art research, archaeology and related disciplines.
The model I have outlined both challenges and affirms aspects of the shamanistic model. As such, the extent to which it is seen to have the capacity to affect perceptions of the art is likely to be controversial. A model which proceeds from questions of myth, history and specificity affirms the thesis that the rock art is best viewed in relation to San religious beliefs, with the proviso that this cannot simply be generalised over time and space (nor linked generally to shamans and hallucinatory experience).
Several of the criticisms I have made are equally applicable to my own previous research, and have arisen in the context of self-critique. For the purposes of the present argument, I have paid insufficient attention to the question of recursiveness, or feedback relations between myth and ritual. Yet, while this reflects the process and context of my own research, it is also based on the proposition that, even if a recursive relationship exists (as it surely does) myth, history and socialisation must ultimately be assigned causal or determining primacy over trance and altered states, rather than vice versa. The main points of departure from the shamanistic model in this analysis concern the supposed centrality of hallucinatory experience in visualisation and the production of rock art, and aspects of method and theory. In this regard it may be profitable to return temporarily to Vinnicombe’s (1976:352) position, where she ultimately declined to generalise the importance of one context of production over another, on the grounds that in San thought all domains are inter-connected. Finally, we may see the art as intrinsically historical; as a varied record of the San perceptions of their own history, whether the subject is mythological, shamanic or depicting contact with colonists and indigenous farmers.
Labels: The San - African Bushmen
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