THE WILDEBEEST: A SOUTH AFRICAN SYMBOL BUT A ROCK ART ENIGMA
Tue, 13/08/2019 - 18:30
SA Astronomical Observatory auditorium
The presence of wildebeest in the South African landscape is notable. In recent times, it has been symbolically represented on coats of arms, stamps and coins. However, the depiction of wildebeest in southern African rock art is a rare occurrence and consequently research on their symbolism has been limited. Zimri Shelter in the Cederberg region, Western Cape, has four paintings of male wildebeest therianthropes. Wildebeest, painted as therianthropes, in such detail, in a region where wildebeest never used to occur and where trance-related images are limited, highlights the need for broader frameworks of understanding.
Comprehensive gender archaeology offers such an avenue as it includes the construction of both masculinity and femininity. By extending the discourse on gender in southern African rock art beyond interpretations that focus on females, it opens up the idea of masculinity as representation in the rock art. I investigate ethnographic documents and stories that suggest semantic links between the word ‘wildebeest’ and aspects of masculine behaviours and rituals within San society. Thereby, I explore depictions of wildebeest as therianthropes at Zimri Shelter within a masculine context and ideas of masculine social construction in rock art.