Three Transformed Shamans Flying Into The Spirit Realm
The images in this print came from several rock shelters in the Kondoa-Irangi districts of central Tanzania (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). In her book entitled “Africa’s Vanishing Art: The Rock Paintings of Tanzania, archaeologist Mary Leakey speculated that the figure on the upper left hand side of the print might represent a hunter dressed in animal skins. However, in the context of archaeologist David Lewis-Williams’ ethnographically-based “shamanistic model,” it, and the other figures in this print, more likely depict shamans in altered states of consciousness that have transformed into part-human, part-animal beings on out-of-body journeys. The figure on the upper left has a plump hairy body, a long bushy tail and short ears with tufts on the top of its head giving it the appearance of a carnivore-- quite possibly a Honey badger--a creature whose association with bees and honey imbued it with supernatural potency. However, the thighs and calf’s on its legs are very human-like and the stubby arms are uncharacteristic of an animal. The four digits representing hands or claws were a common visual symbol used by Bushmen shaman-artists to indicate persons in altered states. The long streamers flowing from its arms and shoulders were described by nineteenth-century /Xam Bushman informants as accoutrements used on by shamans in altered states. Like death, flying was a Bushman metaphor for altered states of consciousness.
The second figure on the upper right of the print appears human-like in overall form, but extremely animal-like in some of its other physical attributes such as hands with four claw-like digits and its long, cartoony tear-shaped ears. It too appears to be flying which was a Bushman metaphor for altered states. The image below them is a human-like angelic looking figure holding a long staff. It also appears to be in flight as suggested by the draped wing-like streamers flowing from its arms. Images such as these are extremely rare in the Kondoa rock paintings. (From M.D. Leakey, 1983. Redrawn by J.A. Cavallo).