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4 Formlings, trees and plants

Formlings and their associated tree motifs are the most striking and vexing of the rock art motifs in Zimbabwe (Frobenius 1931; Goodall 1959; Walker 1996). From a casual judgement based on their visual dominance and elaborateness, formlings appear to have been a significant feature for Matopo San artists. Despite many publications on Matopo and its art, these images have remained, by and large, superficially studied. One reason for this lacuna in research is that most of the archaeologists who have worked in the area have been lithic specialists (e.g., Armstrong 1930; Jones 1931, 1949; Robinson & Cooke 1950; Walker 1996). They have thus focused on excavated Stone Age sequences. No dedicated rock art specialists have spent extended research periods here. The area has therefore lacked a focused rock art research strategy. In 1999 I began field research into formlings and botanical motifs in Matopo. Informed by three strands of evidence, which have hitherto not been considered in tandem, I bring new insights to the interpretation and understanding of these images. My integrated tripartite approach encompasses: 1. A formal study of formlings aimed at identifying the natural model from which they derive; 2. An analysis of the painted contexts and associations in which these motifs are found; and, 3. An analysis of the San symbolic system and relevant beliefs, rituals and myths1.


Other Khoekhoe-speaking groups also share some of the San beliefs, myths and rituals

Continuity and change in San belief and ritual  

A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand,Johannesburg, for the degree of Master of Arts. 2002, by Siyakha...