Photography and Art

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Rock Paintings of Kolo

Kolo is a small village in the middle of Tanzania just north of the town of Kondoa. Kolo is unremarkable as African villages go. It has a dry river that runs through it and the villagers tend herds of cows and goats. However, if you climb the walls of a canyon just outside the village, you come across shallow caves that have long been inhabited by bushmen. These are the caves that shelter some very nice rock paintings as we shall see.

Here is a picture of one of the larger caves. You can easily tell the four tourists from the Kolo guide and our driver by the extensive Tilley garb. Many thousands of years ago, bushmen lived in these caves and hunted in the valley below. They decided to paint pictures of the animals that they hunted on the cave walls using a red ochre paint. The paint has lasted centuries, although the onslaught of modern civilization threatens to ruin the pictures. I was reminded of visiting Stonehenge when I was a youngster, playing tag with my brother as we ran around the stones. Today, the stones are protected by a stout barricade and tourists are kept well away lest the stones be ruined. In Kolo, we had full access to the paintings and could touch them if we wanted to. How long will it be before these are guarded by plexiglass to preserve the paint? Will they create faux caves with faithful copies of the artwork like they do in the caves of France?

If you are interested in the artwork and wish to visit, I suggest that you start off by reading Mary Leakey's book "Africa's Vanishing Art, The Rock Paintings of Tanzania". It is out of print, but can be ordered through used book stores or

Here are my best pictures of the artwork:

The men are depicted with large dreadlocks and straight bodies. Here they are carrying a spear. The women are depicted with curved bodies as you can see below.

Here's the famous abduction scene with two factions vying over the woman in the middle.

Two male figures, a giraffe and a skinned animal.

Close-up of a figure carrying a basket

Close-up of a stretched out animal hide.

More basket carriers. These were painted with more orange in the paint indicating a later time period.

A Figure

A pair of animals

An animal about to get into a trap.

More animal traps

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