Stacks Image 153
Print No #19

Herd of Hallucinatory Antelopes

This group of antelopes was traced by archaeologist Mary Leakey from a rock shelter in the Kondoa-Irangi districts of central Tanzania (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). In her 1983volume, Africa’s Vanishing Art: The Rock Paintings of Tanzania, she describes them as “A herd of streaky-style reedbuck…” For some unknown reason, Leakey neglected to mention the presence of two other antelopes of a different species in the composition. The group of “streaky-style antelopes are indeed stylized depictions of reedbucks consisting of five adults—three males and two females—accompanied by three young subadults. The gender of the adults is based on the forward-curving horns on the male in the lower right of the painting, and the two other adult males with similar radically curved horns. However, archaeologist John Cavallo contends that the prominent humps of the backs of the two large males on the lower right side of the painting and the curvature of the horns on three adults indicate they are more likely stylized wildebeest.

Three of these migratory animals are superimposed over two outline drawings of sable antelopes that lack any interior body markings but are identifiable from their large, distinctive C-shaped horns. In nature, males are nearly solid black while females are chestnut-brown. The hair on their necks and part of their backs are upright like bristles. The bristles shown on the undersides of the necks of both individuals are totally unnatural. In southern African Bushman paintings of eland, bristling hair on the neck and back of the animal signify that it has “died.” Not physically dead, but metaphorically expired as they entered altered states (i.e. trance).

Although the streaky horizontal lines on the painted images are fairly natural, the ladder-like grid patterns and vertical sets of parallel lines on the shoulders of the two large males with humps are definitely not. These geometric forms, known as “entoptics,” are reported as a common occurrence by clinical patients in the early stage of drug-induced trance. They also occur in deeper stages of trance, frequently superimposed over realistic images, as is the case in this painting. Archaeologist John Cavallo also points out the abnormally elongated bodies of the wildebeests, including their unusually long legs, and the elongated downturned neck and the presence of bristling hairs on the underside of the neck on the adult male in the lower right of the group. In combination, these unusual attributes on these animals and the metaphorically “dead” or “dying” sable antelopes are all highly suggestive of altered states of consciousness.

Cavallo also notes that these indicators of that state are more commonly found on human figures and very rarely on animals. However, it is important to realize that Bushmen conceived of people as being animals and animals being people. This is clearly evident in their mythologies that feature prominent figures that are represented as large and small mammals, as well as reptiles and even insects, particularly the praying mantis. However, all of them speak and act exactly like humans. Cavallo therefore interprets this particular painting of semi-realistic reedbucks as more likely representing a group of shamans that have physically transformed into these antelopes during deep trance. According to Bushman ethnographies, shamans in altered states transformed into animals just before they embarked on out-of-body journeys to the spirit realm above and beneath the earth. While in that cosmological universe the negotiated with the spirits in order to carry out various tasks for their communities including bringing rain during droughts, controlling the movements of game animals, and curing the sick and driving off evil from malevolent spirits. (Redrawn by J.A. Cavallo from M.D. Leakey, 1983).