A Southern /Xam Bushman Trance Dance on the Thread of Light
This print is part of an extremely complex mural that depicts a large number of shamans engaged in a special ritual trace dance that involves shamans ascending the so-called “Thread of Light that is said to have ended in the heavenly Sky Village where the spirits, ancestors, and God and his wife known as The Mother of the Bees reside . Beginning on the extreme right side of the lower group of figures the thread of lights appears in four discontinuous segments across the length of the panel. Starting at the far right is a human figure with arms held aloft and one of them is pointing skyward. It shows no physical signs of being in trance. It is standing behind a bizarre hallucinatory animal that is bleeding from its nose and hovering above a small section of the thread. The creature has the body of a lion and the head of a crocodile and probably represents a water or rain animal that resides in waterholes. The hairs standing up on its back suggest that it has “died,” which is a Bushman metaphor for entering altered states of consciousness. The animal is holding two probable dancing sticks and has two streamers emerging from its back. The figure immediately left of it is bending forward and facing and reaching out to the animal being. This individual is bleeding from the nose, holding a bow, and wearing an antelope-eared cap signifying it is a “possessor” of game animals. It looks as if it is attempting to lure the water animal toward it, possibly to use it to bring rain to a drought-ridden area. He is hovering over a section of thread.
To the left of the bowing figure are four more individuals, one carrying a bow and the others holding dancing sticks. Three of them are hovering above the thread while the lead figure on the left is walking or dancing on it. One without a neck wears an antelope-eared cap. The others with either long necks or missing necks are all in states of trance. Behind the two lead figures is an eland running in the opposite direction; a Bushman symbol of great spiritual potency. Immediately above the first six figures is a dense canopy of bees, symbolized by crosses. The swarm stands between the line of figures and a partial solid red individual with a human leg and foot that is associated with a cluster of probable arrows. A single obvious projectile is pointed downward toward the bees and dancing shamans. The partial individual could represent a malevolent shaman in the act of “throwing” “arrows of sickness” at the dancers. However, his evil attempt could be pictured as being foiled by the swarm of bees, another symbol of potency, and the outlined figures representing benevolent spirit ancestors. Bees are considered as emissaries of god. (Redrawn by J.A. Cavallo from J.D. Lewis-Williams, 2002).