Therianthropes and Transformation in San Art

  • Mathias Guenther


The therianthropes of myth and their ontologically unstable, at times, dazzling transformations are motifs not only of San mythology but also of art, the subject matter of Chap.  4. Therianthropes display ontological ambiguity to the greatest degree—of flamboyance, profusion and diversity—in San rock art and in a fashion that in some ways is different from how these beings appear in myths. This raises the question, much debated by writers in the field, whether the were-beings on the rock panels are in fact the First Race of Myth Time and if not (the general consensus, more or less) what the connection between the two might be. While basically moot, as the question cannot be posed to the artists who painted centuries in the past, it is part of the examination of the therianthrope motif in contemporary San, the second component of Chap.  4. This art is examined in the context primarily of the Naro and ≠Au//ei artists at the Kuru Art project at the village of Dekar in western Botswana, on the basis of field work I conducted on this project in the mid-1990s. The art of two of the artists—Dada and Qwaa, their artist’s pseudonyms—is highlighted as it is informed with transformation, expressing the same in different ways, ranging from flashy to subtle. In examining how transformations are worked out in images by these two present-day artists, and their own commentaries on them, the images created by (pre)historic San artists—some of them painting in colonial times and within similar life situations and a shared universe of belief—may become somewhat more fathomable.


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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mathias Guenther
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWilfrid Laurier UniversityOntarioCanada

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