I visited Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe last month. Matobo Hills has over 3,500 rock paintings and is known as one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa. Matobo Hills also has a lot of distinctive rock landforms. It was formed over 2.6 billion years ago with granite forced to the surface and being eroded to produce smooth “whaleback” (dwalas in Ndebele, ruware in Shona)” and broken kopjes, strewn with boulders and interpersed with thickets of vegetation. Mzilikazi, founder of the Ndebele nation, gave the area its name ‘Matobo’, meaning ‘Bald Heads‘.

From the summit of Matobo Hills (photo by Innocent Mutanga) I visited one of the caves in Matobo Hills called Pomomgwe Cave. I was stunned at how big the cave is. The height is about me x 5 and the width was about me x 7. I sat down and imagined how people at then were like at then and wondering why people drew on the wall.

Inside Pomomgwe Cave (photo by Innocent Mutanga)

Although the artwork was destroyed by early misguided preservation attempts, some parts of the art were still visible. I was standing on the same spot where a great artist from some 13,000 years ago was standing.

Paintings in Pomomgwe Cave (photo by Innocent Mutanga)

Paintings in Pomomgwe Cave (photo by Chihiro Shimizu) There are more caves in Matobo Hills where you can see the artworks more clearly, such as Inanke Cave and Silozwane Cave.

Inanke Cave (photo by The Wall Street Journal)

Silozwane Cave (photo by trover) The rock art is essentially a religious art of which mostly drawn by the shaman (both woman and man). Indigenous people in Southern Africa; the San or Bushmen are the ones who practiced shamanism inside the cave. Some archaeologists say “The rock is not just a neutral canvas on which people painted. This painting is what separates this world from the spirit world. And the most of images that we see here are not depictions of something out there. These are in fact the spirit beings and animals brought out onto the rock by medicine people or the shamans.” (Dr. Sven Ouzman*)

The paintings in Inanke Cave. (phot by The Wall Street Journal)
The “hunched giant” of Inanke almost certainly represents a San shaman deep in the state of “trancing”. (MICHAEL FITZGERALD)
*YouTube “Expert on San Bushman Rock Paintings” Dr. Sven Ouzman (1:00~)
The artwork depicts non-human beings, hunters, thrianthropes (half-human half-animal hybrids), animals, and etc. Animals include giraffes, zebras, ostriches, monkeys, eland antelopes, rhinoceros.

The paintings of giraffes in Inanke Cave. (photo by The Wall Street Journal)
The ovals are largely abstract evocations of spiritual forces unifying all of nature. (DAVID COULSON)

The above is only a piece of information about San rock art, and there are still a lot to explore. The Africa Center HK is going to organize an exhibition on San rock art in the beginning of Feburuary 2020. Rock art is the only historical record of intangible beliefs and ideas from more than 13,000 years ago. If you are interested, please visit the exhibition. The information will be available on Africa Center Facebook page.