THE SAN ROCK ART PAINTINGS
One of the San shaman's tasks was to make rain. The San thought of the rain as an animal. The shamans would capture this imaginary animal, lead it to the place where they wanted rain and kill it. Its blood and milk would then become rain. This painting, from the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, shows a group of trancers in the process of capturing the "rain-bull".
Dancing figures with sticks
Capturing the "Rain-Bull"
Moving away from Drakensberg, to other areas of South Africa images of the dance remain common. This painting from the Eastern Free State is one example. The central figures are dancing, supported by dancing sticks. The dancer often bends forward during the dance as his potency begins to 'boil' in his stomach. In this position he supports his weight on one or two dancing sticks. The women on the left hand side are depicted in a characteristic clapping posture.
Below a Rock painting of a line of dancing shamans, from the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Some bleed from the nose; some carry dancing sticks. The figures of the leading figure extend onto the roof of the rock shelter. The lines radiating from his fingers probably represent sickness being cast back to the world of the spirits. The eland head probably symbolises the eland n/om, or power, that shamans are harnessing.
Nasal bleeding, hand-to-mouth postures, and the arms-back posture are all signs of depictions of trance experience in San rock paintings. Paintings of dances often depict blood flowing from the noses of shamans whose ecstasy has reached a climax. Nineteenth-century San who spoke of this phenomenon say that shamans smeared their nasal blood on people in the belief that its smell (that is, its power), would protect them from arrows-of-sickness. A hand raised to the nose is a typical, widely-painted shamanic feature.
Sometimes the painted dancers are shown with their bodies bent forwards
so that they are almost at right angles to their legs. In this posture, they support the weight of their torsos on one or two dancing sticks. The San explain that, as the dance increases in intensity, the n/om in the shamans' stomachs starts to 'boil', their muscles contract painfully, and they bend forward in the way depicted above.
The dancers wear rattles on their legs. Scattered amongst them are a number of white flecks. Like arrows-of-sickness, these flecks probably depict something that is not seen by ordinary people
. Perhaps they depict the n/om that infuses the place of the dance and that shamans can see.