Cultural Heritage / Science

Rock Art: Niger’s Past Present

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What compels the human spirit to share stories?

The Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) opens a window to the past in an extraordinary exhibition of photographs of Niger rock art to provoke, inspire and raise questions on the very nature of humanity and human existence.

Ambassador of the United States to Niger Eunice Roddick said during the exhibit opening, “It is a privilege for the people of the Aïr in particular, and Niger in general to have such a rich cultural heritage. The Government of the United States is pleased to contribute to the preservation and promotion of this valuable cultural heritage.”

For Niger, according to Hamidou Moussa, student and cultural heritage practitioner with TARA,

“When I discovered rock art, I learnt that we need to learn again.”

With a partnership between the diplomatic community and cultural heritage preservation experts to preserve and protect the rock art centuries old, once again the storyteller weaves a bond between the physical art and the interpreter.

The storyteller invites the best in humanity to choose to share knowledge, expertise and ultimately protect cultural heritage for civilizations to come.

The Niger rock art engravings date from several historical periods of human existence

  • The Large Wild Fauna Period or Bubalus (12,000 to 6,000 years ago) The giraffe (photograph above) is an example of the Bubalus Period and is located north of Agadez.
  • The Pastoral Period (7,500 to 3,000 years ago)
  • The Libyan Warrior Period of warriors and horses (3,200 to 1,000 years ago)
  • The Camel Period (2,000 years ago)

According to Trust for African Rock Art,

“Most of these rock engravings date from a time when the climate here was much less arid and more humid. Lots of people lived in the valleys of the Air in those days as did large herds of cattle as well as wild animals such as elephant, rhino, giraffe, lion, ostrich etc). This was a completely different world from the Niger of today.

It is probable that many of the more recent rock engravings were created by ancestors of the Tuareg since one often sees Ti nagh (the Tuareg alphabet and script) alongside these engravings. Unfortunately, today it is almost always impossible to translate this script since the alphabet has evolved during the last centuries making it impossible to interpret.”

Imagine the audacity to say someone carved an 18 foot giraffe in stone 6,000 to  8,000 years ago. Imagine the conditions, the tools, the sheer motivation and will to express the importance of the giraffe to human existence.

Moussa in a past interview with TARA says,

“we focused on the Dabous giraffes as the case study to look deeper into the importance and meanings of rock art for prehistoric peoples and for us now: spirituality, knowledge, economic meanings and so on.”

To create art is to express something so intimately known and lived.

The true interpreters, centuries long passed, did not leave a Rosetta Stone to interpret correctly the legends of the past.

However, if one were to decipher rock art and the mere fact they remain in existence, they depict stories of the full expression of the human experience. Opening questions such as What tools did they use? Why was the giraffe and other images so important? How has the climate changed? Where did people move? Why did they move? What did people value? What beliefs did they hold dear? How was the language formed – written and orally? What lessons from yesterday can be applied to today?

Very clearly though a correct interpretation would indicate that without shelter, exposed to the elements and wildlife, a protected, nurtured, cared for storyteller carved the community’s accomplishments.

The storyteller compels the viewer to acknowledge the existence of an ancient community, their experience, their language, culture, climate, environment, landscape, spirituality, and

“the evidence of Humankind.”

Rock art is an ethereal link between the ancient past and the present.

Are we as a society today able and prepared to listen to the ancient storytellers?

By Keri Douglas, founder of 9 Muses News. ©2016 All rights reserved.

Special note: Read the Giraffes of the Desert, A Children’s Story by Wangũi Kamonji. It is as though the elders return to inspire, lead and guide through revelations and exploration of rock art. A beautiful story.

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2 thoughts on “Rock Art: Niger’s Past Present

  1. I agree with Madiba Nelson Mandela when he said: “Africa’s rock art is the comon heritage of all Africans, but it is more, it’s the comon heritage of Humanity”.
    Niger Rock Art is a chance for Niger.

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