Before Farming

From girls to women: female imagery in the San rock paintings of the Central Limpopo Basin, southern Africa

Before Farming (2005), 2005, (3), 1–25.

Abstract

In southern African San rock art research two approaches to women's and gender issues have emerged. Broadly speaking, the first of these incorporates women's issues in a shamanistic framework, and the second treats them as being ‘outside’ a shamanistic understanding. It can be shown that, far from being mutually exclusive, both of these approaches have relevance to the rock paintings of the Central Limpopo Basin (CLB). In this paper certain human female figures from the CLB are examined with reference to age categories, body representation, and grouping. Kalahari ethnography is used to suggest a provisional identification of their ritual context, and this includes supporting evidence from the oral testimonies of women from three Central San groups. As a result, these paintings are thought to have implications for the broader southern African debate around female representation. Finally, the possible function of these paintings is considered with reference to their primary contexts: the rock face and the landscape.

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Eastwood, Edward