Rock art through the ages for all ages

21 October 2002
IN A bid to preserve Lesotho's beautiful and historically significant San rock art paintings, Pieter Jolly, a research associate with the Department of Archaeology, has started a conservation/education poster project with a number of primary schools in the country.

Jolly, who has been doing research on the paintings and San history in Lesotho since the early 1990s, noticed a few years ago that the paintings were being increasingly damaged.

Most of the deterioration had been caused by herdboys, who would throw stones at the art or draw over it with charcoal, among other things, said Jolly.

In response, he approached Amanda Esterhuysen and Susan Buss at the Archaeological Resource Development Project at Wits University, as well as Lesotho's Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Culture, with a proposal for a poster that would be aimed at primary school children.

A total of 1 000 posters were produced in July last year, thanks to the financial assistance of the De Beers Fund Educational Trust.

With its text in Sesotho, the posters illustrate how Mohlomi, a well-known Sotho historical figure and sage, explains to a group of children the meaning and value of rock art paintings. He points out as an example that the patterns painted on Basotho huts can be renewed, while San paintings, once destroyed, are lost forever.

“One of our primary objectives was to root the poster firmly within the culture of the Basotho, so that it would be understood by, and appeal to, the communities living in rural areas where most of the paintings are situated,” comments Jolly. The bulk of the posters, some 800, were distributed to primary schools in the country, the first being handed over to the leaders of the community and school children living near Ha Baroana, (meaning “place of the Bushmen”) one of the largest and best-known rock art sites in Lesotho.

More recently, Jolly secured funding, again from De Beers, for the continuation of the project. This would be a two-pronged venture, firstly to produce an additional 1 000 posters to go to more schools, and secondly, to kick off an outreach project.

For the latter, Jolly has identified 25 of the richest rock art sites in the country, and will speak to nearby communities about the preservation of these paintings. He is presently looking for funding to expand the programme to include, eventually, another 75 such sites.

The poster and outreach project is the first of its kind in Lesotho, and essential for the preservation of the many rock art masterpieces found in the country, said Jolly. “It would be a tragedy if any of these paintings were damaged or destroyed due to inadequate education concerning their great value.”

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