African Animal Art

The African peoples, particularly the traditional tribes from times past, were reliant on the land, its vegetation and the animals for their very lives. For this reason, there was an enormous insight into the defining traits of many animals, their habits and skills, as well as a healthy respect and even reverence for some of the beasts with whom they shared their territory.

Because art is a way of identifying one’s self and culture, animals became a major subject matter for African artists. The paintings, sculptures and textiles depicting animals often did so in a way that either expressed their relationship to the human beings, or symbolised something about that person or tribe. For example, wild lions were known for their courage and regal-ness. Likewise, an elephant was associated with strength and power. Therefore, associating such an animal with a certain king or warrior, the artists granted that one the same stature.

Image of Petroglyphs of giraffes and some other animals at Twyfelfontein, Namibia.
Petroglyphs of giraffes and some other animals at Twyfelfontein, Namibia.

African artists favour symbolism and the abstract more than presenting a realistic form of their subject matter. So, animal qualities were sometimes bestowed on other humans or even inanimate objects to convey a specific idea about the strengths, weaknesses, dangers or benefits of such a person or thing. This may be done by giving a human the head of a snake, or the mane of a lion. It is not realistic, but it conveys more than the person’s outward appearance.

The art did not always resemble the animal in its appearance, though. Sometimes, an artist would use the bone, hair or skin of the animal to convey the same message. Since crocodiles were associated with evil spirits, masks using their features or skin were used in cleansing rituals, to chase such evil away from the village. Likewise, sculpting something from ivory automatically superimposed the qualities of the original owner, the elephant, onto the piece, even if it did not resemble an elephant in any way.

As with almost all African art, the use of animals in their creative pieces again reinforces their strong cultural roots and the importance placed upon their art. As it continues to evolve over time, this significance urges the viewer to take a deeper look and to appreciate its nuances all the more so.

Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.