The Women’s Dance III: Southern Africa

by Max Dashu

Rock mural at Genaadeberg, South Africa
A circle of women with ceremonial staffs (possibly the same as their digging sticks) at Genaadeberg, Orange Free State, east-central South Africa. I really wish this was a photo; the drawing only hints at the original.
Dancing and walking with digging sticks

The central panel could be a scene of women heading out to gather food, but dancers are shown at left and lower left, and these scenes seem to be related. Euro-settlers have vandalized these historic paintings with graffiti, as in North America.

San women raising digging sticks

Other ancient San paintings show women raising their digging sticks in invocation or ceremony, one example of how daily life was integrated with spiritual custom.

Rock mural somewhere in South Africa

A procession of women with upturned bows. Possibly a hunting dance. Many societies used bows as musical and divinatory instruments as well. No site given.

Salmans Laagter, South African Cape

San painting of women dancing in the Cape region of South Africa. What a difference a color photo makes with this rich red-ochre art. Traditionally it has been San women who gathered and ritual anointed or sprinkled people with red ochre. One important occasion for this ritual act was at the end of womanhood initiation ceremonies, when the new women blessed others in the community. The Apache have a parallel custom. Dating is notoriously difficult with these ochre paintings. Some are many thousands of years old and others are centuries old.

Chikupa, Zimbabwe

Women’s procession, with wands / staffs, in rock mural at Chikupa, Zimbabwe. (This was a black and white line drawing; i’ve added rock texture as a background.) Archaeologists think these paintings are at least 2000 years old, made by Khoisan peoples well before the Bantu immigrations to southern Africa.

Brandberg, Namibia
Another low-quality drawing (but I’ll take what I can get) of a procession, this time with several men, from the Brandberg in Namibia (southwestern Africa). Full of fine rock art, it takes its name Burning Mountain from the brilliant orange ochre rock formations.
Mural at Springfontein, Zimbabwe

One more from Zimbabwe, three women walking or dancing in a detail of a much larger mural at Springfontein.