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49 The gebesi explanation obscures the complexity of symbolism in formlings that is revealed in their contexts. However, as Chapter Eight shows, this explanation is substantive to my interpretation in so far as it foregrounds supernatural potency. I show that the gebesi is an expression of an idiosyncratic insight into a larger symbolic focus.

Formlings as real phenomena

Working specifically in Matopo, Walker (1987, 1994, 1996) interprets formlings in the light of San notions of potency. In contrast to Garlake, Walker (1987: 141) notes that “abstract signs are very rare” in Matopo art. Arguing that formlings and trident signs “can be interpreted in terms of real phenomena”. He views the beehive interpretation as a correct insight adding that the associated microdots might be depicting cells of bees (Walker 1996: 73) included so as to represent potency symbols. Walker (1996: 73) extends the idea of potency to other insect forms, such as, cocoons (poison grubs) or paper wasp nests, which he suggests might be a conceptual extension of the power of poison. He has also suggested that formlings might depict inanimate subjects that include cultural objects, such as: huts, ostrich egg shell containers and leather bags (Walker 1996: 11). Walker rightly concludes that, although formlings may denote entrapped or controlled power, their function [or symbolism] was varied. Walker’s studies show formlings to occur mostly in large living sites and what he calls ‘ceremonial centres’. The bigger (in size and number of ovals) and more elaborate formlings were found to occur in large well-occupied shelters (Walker 1996: 32). In these large sites, more ovals per cluster were recorded showing a

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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