Nguni rock art
In contrast to Northern Sotho rock art, the rock art made by Nguni-language speakers is predominantly engraved. This art is found throughout the KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa, spreading a little way into neighbouring parts of Mpumalanga and Gauteng Province.
The art comprises multiple sets of concentric circles joined by meandering lines. Researchers have shown that the circles represent homesteads â?? houses and granaries lain out around a central cattle kraal. Sometimes each hut is represented by a dot; other times a solid circle is used to evoke the ring of huts around the circular cattle kraal, which lies at the heart of the homestead.
The meandering lines represent the paths and cattle tracks linking various homesteads. The engraved tracks often wind their way across the rock surface to prominent circular depressions in the rock, as if these depressions evoke the waterholes where cattle drink.
The vast majority of the settlement pattern engravings follow the central cattle pattern form that is distinctive of Nguni settlements in South Africa. Judging by the overall distribution, the majority of this art was made by ancestors of modern-day Zulu-speakers and other closely related groups.
On the periphery of the area in which these engravings are found, such as in the Magaliesberg hills outside of Johannesburg, one finds a few engraving sites that have settlement pattern engravings that are more Sotho or Tswana in their layout. It seems, therefore, that some Sotho-Tswana groups who were living in close interaction with Nguni groups took up this tradition.
The rationale behind the making of these engravings remains somewhat uncertain, though the widespread distribution and regularity in subjects suggests that this art links to a central and repeated traditional Zulu practice, and that the making rock art was highly ritualised.
Given the repeated association of African farmer rock art with initiation rituals, this seems the most likely context for the creation of this art. Under the rule of King Shaka, and at his insistence, most Zulu-speaking groups abandoned traditional initiation practices in the early 1800s. This may explain the demise of this rock art tradition.
â?? Contributed by Catherine Namono, RARI