Rock paintings which may depict live eland being used in San rites


  • Pieter Jolly


San, rock paintings, persistence hunting, control and taming of eland, rain-making rites


Rock paintings of eland and people in unusually close, and sometimes bizarre, association with each other are a puzzling feature of the San painting tradition, and paintings of this kind are discussed here. It has been suggested that some of these paintings may be entirely symbolic, the hallucinations of San shamans, and/or part of a suite of magical practices used to facilitate the hunting of animals. However, it has also been suggested that some of these scenes in the art may depict actual physical rites involving live eland. Evidence is presented here to show that it would have been feasible for San, on foot or horseback, to have run down, driven, captured, and possibly tamed eland, which could have been killed during the performance of rites—most likely rain-making rites linked to the connection between eland and rain. It is suggested, further, that when these rites were subsequently painted, San painters may have included in their paint the blood, and possibly fat, of the eland killed ritually in this way, in order to add power to the paintings. Rock paintings may depict aspects of trance experiences associated with the performance of these rites, together with aspects of the actual rites themselves.



How to Cite

Jolly, P. (2021). Rock paintings which may depict live eland being used in San rites. Southern African Humanities, 34, 111–136. Retrieved from