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165 undeclared, this leaf may have implied buchu judging by its function of charming and cooling down the potency of the shot antelope. Unequivocal depictions alluding to such plant uses are rare, but plausible contexts can be cited. In 1873 Orpen recorded a painting of a group of human figures, one of which holds out a plant form towards the snout of a grotesque animal. Vinnicombe (1976: fig. 239) copied this panel in more detail (Pager 1976: 46), and suggested that it depicted sorcerers charming, capturing and leading-out a rain animal. In another panel (Vinnicombe 1976: fig. 240) she inferred similar ritual use of aromatic charms (also Lewis-Williams 1981a: 110). Because of their scents or smells these herbal charms contain supernatural potency. The role that different plants play depends on their potency or magical properties. The G/wi, and indeed most San groups, actually say that plants have inherent powers, which can be automatically and mechanically released when the plant is used or eaten (Silberbauer 1981: 77) as food or medicine. Like animals, each has potency with different strengths and are appropriate for different individuals in different contexts. Generically, trees and plants appear to have held a similar symbolic status in San thought. Particular botanical species are obscure in San oral traditions. Only generic terms, sometimes with several related connotations, are used. For example, the Nharo word ‘hii’ means, tree or medicine (D.F. Bleek 1928: 25-26) and in its shortened form ‘hi’, it means plant or wood (ibid.: 26). Sometimes general plant parts, such as leaves or roots or fruits are mentioned without mentioning particular species, suggesting that specific identity was unnecessary to the symbolic function. Botanical subjects are, therefore, an open class, where general terms like ‘tree’, ‘leaf’, ‘fruit’, or ‘root’ carry related cosmological concepts. In the

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...

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