TARA Chairman, David Coulson, who is currently in Zimbabwe working on a joint project with the National Museum and the University of Zimbabwe last week recorded a remarkable new San painting site in the Makonde region north west of Harare. In his opinion these paintings are among the most beautiful and exceptionally preserved paintings he has recorded and could be as much as 2,000 years old.
The main panel has about 150 paintings and is dominated by paintings of Kudu antelope as well as a multitude of dancers and hunters. At the top is the rear section of a big animal which might be a hippo, the front part having been washed away by a water seep. The setting of the site is beautiful. It is located amongst huge lichen-covered boulders and brachystegia trees.
Kudu are part of the antelope family which includes the eland. Together with the eland, kudu are among San groups in southern Africa considered to be totemic or power animals. These animals are credited with special powers such as the power to bring rain or to heal. In Zimbabwe the special power-animals are kudu and elephant with giraffe also being special. Meanwhile in South Africa the main power animal is the eland.
Zimbabwe’s rock art is diverse and remarkable and some paintings have been dated to over 7,000 years of age. Coulson and the late Alec Campbell have recorded rock art extensively in Zimbabwe in the past (see Zimbabwe gallery), but there is a huge amount of art still to be documented. Certain areas are known for the quality and abundance of their paintings including the area with the photographed site.
This site had been illustrated in a book published in the 1980s, but few people knew about the exceptional beauty of its main panel. We have not in recent years been able to fund the documentation of these important sites due to lack of support. This time, however, TARA is collaborating on this conservation and awareness project with the National Museum of Zimbabwe and with the University of Zimbabwe. The project is supported by the Prince Claus Fund in Amsterdam.
Many of Zimbabwe’s premier rock painting sites have been occupied by independent church groups so there is a need to ensure that these groups and the local communities understand the antiquity, importance and significance of the art. In addition to sensitising church groups and communities, TARA believes in the importance of creating awareness at local schools.