Binding beliefs: a creolised cosmology of protective plants and animals in the rock art of a mixed raiding group on the nineteenth-century colonial frontier.
Binding beliefs: a creolised cosmology of protective plants and animals
in the rock art of a mixed raiding group on the nineteenth-century colonial
Using history, ethno-history, ethnography and archaeology I demonstrate
that mixed bands of raiders creolised on the nineteenth-century colonial
frontier of southern Africa around beliefs they found culturally coherent.
Owing to extensive pre-colonial interaction between hunters, herders and
farmers, these diverse cultures shared the belief that the baboon was a symbol
of protection, associated with certain protective root medicines which
made it invulnerable to sickness or evil. This gave it the ability to raid crops
and livestock, and to escape unharmed. The protective roots were believed to
‘tie up’, ‘bind’ or otherwise incapacitate one’s foes, and to fore-warn of approaching
danger. Amongst Bantu-speakers, this category of root medicine
is cognate over much of south-east Africa. New ways of life, geared in part
to mounted raiding and hunting brought together people from diverse ethnic
backgrounds, including Bushmen, Bantu-speaking farmers and Khoespeaking
pastoralists. The ethnographic and historical literature of these respective
groups has been integrated with a rock art tradition arguably specific
to one such creolised group. This group brought horses into the Maloti-
Drakensberg and forged themselves a new identity around the symbols of the
horse and the baboon. Among the raiders, the Bushmen were renowned for
their ability to harness the potency of certain animals during ritual dances.
The rock art shows dancing groups changing into baboons and horses. The
creolised raiders believed they could appropriate, in ritual, the protective
powers of the baboon, and thus remain unharmed on mounted raids into the
colonies. The style and content of the rock art associated with horses and
baboons is painted with remarkable convention in the region said to have
been occupied by one particular nineteenth century group – the AmaTola.
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