Painting postures: body symbolism in San rock art of the North Eastern Cape, South Africa

George, Leanne
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Certain postures and gestures of the human body recur in fine-line San rock art. Students of southern African rock art are introduced to a number of classic postures and features of human figures during the trance dance. The movement and posture of the human body is significant during the ritual trance dance, yet the reasons for painting certain postures over and over again have not been discussed often. This dissertation examines the symbolic meaning behind painting certain recurring postures in the Maclear and Barkly East Districts of the north Eastern Cape Province. This thesis examines sets of similar pointing and gesturing postures of the human body in rock art, and also examines the symbolic role of recurring postures in both the ritual trance dance and rock art. I argue that the painters used these similar sets of images (and others) in rock art to actively maintain and negotiate the flow of supernatural potency from the spirit world into the body of the shaman to utilise in this world and that the images were not static depictions of fragments of the trance dance, and did not only represent the process, but were viewed as actively participating in this process.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science Johannesburg, January 2013