Nqabayo’s Nomansland: San Rock Art and the Somatic Past

University dissertation from Uppsala : Afrikansk och jämförande arkeologi

Abstract: The most significant challenge facing modern southern African rock art research is the integration of rock paint­ings into the construction of San history. This challenge is made all the more difficult because of poor chronologi­cal control over the images. In the absence of reliable dating techniques, the challenge to interdigitate image and history becomes a profoundly theoretical one. Drawing on theoretical studies of body and embodiment, this work takes up the challenge of incorporating rock paintings into the production of the past. Primarily concerned with a small area, previously known as Nomansland, in the south-eastern mountains of South Africa, the work uses embodiment as a tool for extending present interpretations of the art before moving on to arguing that a focus on body allows us to detect change in certain images in Nomansland. Finally, embodiment is used to re-evaluate present understandings of the social consumption of the paintings. In using embodiment to investigate issues of meaning, change and the production and consumption of San rock art, it becomes clear that this theoretical concept offers a way of incorporating rock paintings into the writing of San history in Nomansland. This work, then, contributes to the broader field of southern African San historiog­raphy, where the question of San interaction with other peoples is sometimes treated too simply and in a manner that is not consistent with broader postcolonial writing.

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