Kondoa Rock-Art Sites
On the eastern slopes of the Masai escarpment bordering the Great Rift Valley are natural rock shelters, overhanging slabs of sedimentary rocks fragmented by rift faults, whose vertical planes have been used for rock paintings for at least two millennia. The spectacular collection of images from over 150 shelters over 2,336 km2 , many with high artistic value, displays sequences that provide a unique testimony to the changing socio-economic base of the area from hunter-gatherer to agro-pastoralist, and the beliefs and ideas associated with the different societies. Some of the shelters are still considered to have ritual associations with the people who live nearby, reflecting their beliefs, rituals and cosmological traditions.
Outstanding Universal Value
On the eastern slopes of the Masai escarpment bordering the Great Rift Valley are natural rock shelters, overhanging slabs of sedimentary rocks fragmented by rift faults, whose vertical planes have been used for rock paintings over at least two millennia.
The exact number of rock art sites in the Kondoa area is not yet known but it is estimated that there are between 150 and 450 decorated rock shelters, caves and overhanging cliff faces. The sites are located on the steep eastern slopes, an area of spectacular, fractured geological formations, which provided the necessary shelter for the display of paintings.
The extensive and dense collection of rock paintings represents and embodies the cultures of both hunter-gatherer and pastoralist communities who have lived in the area over several millennia.
The similarities with images from southern and central Africa, together with their distinctive streaky style and rare depiction of domesticated animals, make them distinctive examples of hunter-gatherer rock art at its northernmost limit.
In the spectacular collection of images from over 150 shelters, many have a high artistic value, and display sequences that provide a unique testimony to the changing socio-economic base of the area, from hunter-gatherer to agro-pastoralist societies, and the beliefs and ideas associated with them. Some of the shelters still have ritual associations with the peoples who live nearby, and are associated with the strong living traditions of the local population.
Criterion (iii): The rock art sites at Kondoa are an exceptional testimony to the lives of hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists who have lived in the area over several millennia, and reflect a unique variation of hunter-gatherer art from southern and central Africa and a unique form of agro-pastoralist paintings.
Criterion (vi): Some of the rock art sites are still used actively by local communities for a variety of ritual activities such as rainmaking, divining and healing. These strong intangible relationships between the paintings and living practices reinforce the links with those societies that created the paintings, and demonstrate a crucial cultural continuum.
The boundaries enclose the extent of the main rock art sites. The boundaries do not follow any recognisable feature on the ground, although they are marked with embedded concrete posts.
Most of the rock art sites are stable and relatively well preserved. Although the rock shelters with paintings are located on the slopes of the escarpment or on the plateau and are generally surrounded by a wooded or bushy environment, there are some threats due to village land use practices. In particular, village farming, cattle grazing and harvesting of forestry resources are encroaching on the areas surrounding the rock art sites.
The forested or wooded environment surrounding the rock art sites creates a desirable protective measure for the paintings as this minimizes the effects of the sun, wind and dusts.
The woodland areas around the rock art sites give vital protection to the rock art, and are essential to control soil erosion and retain ground water. Deforestation, through the seeking of building materials and fuel, could seriously damage the images. A large number of sites were illegally excavated before inscription with a loss of contextual material.
One of the key qualities of the Kondoa rock art sites is that they still play an active role in the rituals of local communities. The sites are used for instance for weather-divination, healing and initiation. Whereas it is essential to sustain the links with local communities, there is also a need to ensure that use and conservation do not conflict. For instance in some of the rain-making rituals, animal fat and beer are thrown over the rock art paintings, perhaps a recent adaptation of older practices.
The authenticity of Kondoa rock art is beyond question. It has never been restored or enhanced in any way. What is of special importance about Kondoa is that the rock art exists, largely in its original natural environment, and in the context of a rich living heritage. The places where ancient hunter-gatherers painted rock art perhaps to influence the weather are still used today by local farmer communities in modern rain-making ceremonies. Modern versions of boys’ initiation ceremonies, which a few centuries ago may have led to the creation of certain white paintings, are still held every year in most of the villages in the area. Descendents of the Maa-speaking pastoralists, who once perhaps painted at a number of rock art sites in the area, still visit the area to graze their cattle during periods of drought.
A recent rock painting made by a Sandawe speaking man illustrated a remarkable persistence of artistic tradition, perhaps extending over several millennia.
Protection and management requirements
The Kondoa rock art site was initially managed by the National Monuments preservation ordinance No. 4 of 1937. This was repealed and replaced by the Antiquities Act No 10 of 1964, with its amendment Act No. 22 of 1979. Twelve Kondoa rock painting sites were given a special status and level of protection when they were scheduled as National Monuments in 1949. These sites were re-listed in 1981 when the Government of Tanzania published a new gazette, notice No. 39 published on 27 March 1981 with seven other sites added to the list. The property was declared a Conservation Area in 2004.
A Conservation Plan, started in 2001, was completed and updated in 2005. A Property Management Plan and Statement of Objectives were prepared in 2004. Both of these need to be regularly updated.
The existence of rock paintings in the area was first reported in 1908 and, although a variety of excavations were carried out during the 20th century, the rock art area at Kondoa has never been comprehensively surveyed. The records from these past surveys and work are scattered over a variety of institutions in different countries. At present there is no integrated documentation system for the sites. The management plan notes this as a matter of serious concern and, in order to support the management and monitoring, there is a need for the Department of Antiquities to create a central database of all documentation.
The management of the property will need to create a careful path between supporting the living heritage values of the sites and supporting the physical preservation of the sites. Working together with the Kondoa forest authority, the village governments and communities have now identified areas where trees can be grown for firewood.
- Rock Art
- Rock Shelter
- Pictograph (Painting)
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