Before Farming

Before farming? Cattle kept and painted by the southeastern San

Before Farming (2007), 2007, (4), 1–29.

Abstract

Cattle form a distinctive theme in the later rock art of many San groups. In this paperthe symbolism of these animals in the art is explored with particular reference to the cultural influence of Nguni and Sotho cattle-breeders on the San. Evidence is presented for the acquisition of cattle on a permanent basis by some San groups, including some of the San groups who occupied areas where paintings of cattle occur. The influence of neighbouring pastoralists/agropastoralists on the economies and the religious ideologies and rites of southern and east African hunter-gatherers is discussed. It is concluded that some south-eastern San groups, particularly those who had absorbed or inter-married with Bantu-speakers, adopted pastoralism/agropastoralism, and that essentially pastoralist/agropastoralist religious notions concerning cattle, syncretised in some cases with essentially San hunter-gatherer beliefs, are expressed in some of the cattle paintings. It is likely that a ‘gradient of acculturation’ existed, with cattle paintings increasingly coming to symbolise pastoralist/agropastoralist religious beliefs and rites as the process of San acculturation, caused by intensive symbiotic contact with Nguni and Sotho/Tswana groups, progressed.

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Jolly, Pieter