Kondoa Rock Art

Although several archaeologists, most prominently Mary Leakey, have studied these sites, the history of most remains shrouded in mystery, with little known about either their artists or even their age. Some sites are still used by local rainmakers and medicine men.

Rock-art experts divide the Kondoa paintings into two distinct styles or eras. The oldest are the so-called Red Paintings, which are also the most sophisticated. Some experts maintain that the oldest paintings date back around 7000 years, perhaps even further. The Red Paintings (often ochre or orange) usually contain stylised depictions of humans, sometimes hunting with bows and arrows or dancing and playing musical instruments, while many are drawn with skirts, strange hairstyles and body decoration. Large animals, notably giraffes and antelopes, are also common, and geometric shapes also appear. Intriguingly the depictions of animals tend to be naturalistic, while the humans have a stick-figure abstraction.

The Red Paintings are thought to have been made by the Sandawe who, linguistically, are distantly related to South Africa’s San a group also renowned for its rock art, or the Hadza people, who now live around Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. Whoever they were, the makers sometimes used hands and fingers, but also brushes made of reeds or sticks. Some of the colours were probably made by mixing various pigments with animal fat to form crayons.

The second category is known as the Late White Paintings. Far simpler (even crude) when compared to the Red Paintings, the Late White Paintings mostly date from the last 1500 years and were painted by Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated into the area. The better ones resemble wild or mythical animals, human figures and patterns using dots, circles and rectangles, but many of these more recent works take on unintelligible form, largely because most were painted using fingers rather than brushes.

For more information, contact the Trust for African Rock Art (www.africanrockart.org) or pick up a copy of the excellent African Rock Art by David Coulson and Alec Campbell.