Thursday, June 10, 2021

African mythology and the San

I'm currently reading The Hero with an African face, and it's fascinating. I got it because of the story I mentioned last week about the Khoikhoi: Aigamuxa, monster with its eyes on the insteps of its feet.

This book mentions the mythology of the San (pejoratively known as "Bushmen"), and their rock art, which dates back thirty thousand years. 

For a long time, Western culture viewed this art as much more recent. Erich Von Daniken couldn't believe that they even created it, and claimed it was of extraterrestrial origin (nice try, goober). 

For the San, the antelope (eland) is the "supreme vehicle of shamanic power," and the art represents both eland dying (which very specific details, like its hind legs crossing as it falters and the hair standing up on its body in a response from the nervous system), and shamans entering a spiritual state (where they acquire traits of the dying eland, so a shaman holding the eland's tail has his legs crossed, too). I'm breaking about a dozen copyright laws here, but I took a picture:

If you click on that to enlarge, you can see how beautifully the details from the eland image are transferred to the shamans. 

There's also good evidence that these images were much more than symbolic, because some of the details represented by other images suggest some of the same sensations that people experience while in a trance state. 

It's a fascinating book, if you're interested in mythology. He also talks a bit about how mythology has a different perspective in different cultures. In Western cultures, the focus is on the individual. In Eastern cultures, the focus is on the group. In African cultures, it's more balanced. There is a common African saying that goes "I am because we are. We are because I am."

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