Engravings of Southern Tswana Households in the Kuruman Valley, Northern Cape
Simon Hall
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 18:30
SA Astronomical Observatory auditorium
Western Cape

One motif theme in the rock engravings done by southern African Bantu-speaking farmers is the depiction of household and homestead space. In this talk we focus on engravings of southern Tswana households in the Northern Cape that date between the 17th and 19th centuries. We describe their layout and using historic sources, identify the function of different household spaces and the types of work and social interactions that took place within them. 

This provides a framework for discussing why engravers placed greater graphic emphasis on certain household spaces than others. We suggest that this visual emphasis draws attention to spaces where wives and daughters worked in the daily round of domestic production, in contrast to other spaces where the emphasis is on the presence of men. The implication is that these household engravings are ‘maps’ of gendered roles and responsibilities. We go on to propose that they were engraved in the process of female initiation as part of instruction on their future obligations as wives and mothers. Associated engravings of girls tasselled aprons support this view.  

In conclusion, we address some historic contexts that may have prompted this particular emphasis on households. In developing this discussion we compare them with other Tswana engravings from the Magaliesberg that depict complete homesteads or large towns but where the dominant theme is on cattle enclosures and cattle tracks.