Before Farming

Shared symbols

cross-cultural clothing motifs in the rock art of the Central Limpopo Basin, southern Africa

Before Farming (2007), 2007, (1), 1–22.

Abstract

In the Central Limpopo Basin, San hunter-gatherers, Khoekhoe herders and Bantu-speaking farmers coexisted in the same landscape for about 1500 years. In each of their rock painting traditions there are paintings of women's aprons associated with a limited range of geometric forms. Common themes are sought in the ethnographies of these three cultural groups in order to outline the significance of aprons and geometric forms to each of them. Because San-authored paintings of clothing are absent from areas where the paintings were made before Khoekhoe settlement, it is likely that the San only began to paint aprons after contact with the Khoekhoen. Similarly, the apparent pre-farmer origins of the Khoekhoe apron motif and associated geometric paintings, together with similarities between Khoekhoe and Northern Sotho geometric paintings, suggests that the Northern Sotho also only began painting aprons after contact with the Khoekhoen. Parallels and commonalities in the ethnographies and rock paintings of the three groups suggest cross-cultural influences with a strong focus on a specific facet of interaction. An examination of the location of sites in the landscape and the interaction between paintings on the rock face made by the various groups show how the apron motif may have become a focus for cross-cultural communication. This study has implications for understanding the complexity of interaction, and for a more nuanced consideration of the Kalahari Revisionist Debate in San rock art studies.

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Eastwood, Edward