The Northern Circuit – Tarangire National Park – The Kolo Rock Paintings

23rd February 2013

This extremely rare collection of rock paintings, at Kolo near Kondoa, remains another mystery of Tanzanian history, with no real verification for the date of their conception or the identity of their originators. It seems likely that the images were originally the work of the hunter-gatherer Bushmanoid tribes, who have an ancestral history of rock art, and some Sandawe clans claim that their ancestors were responsible for the paintings. But as the collection varies so greatly in age and style, it might be that later Bantu-speaking peoples added their own handiwork to the older images. It is estimated that many of them are between 200 and 4,000 years old[200,000 years old, or really 200 years?] and the research carried out by Mary Leakey in the 1960s identified nine different styles that may relate to different eras and artists. Some of the work is black and white and some in varying orange- and brown-tinted ochres, and many of the older images have faded and suffered through the course of time, while others have been painted over by successive generations. Many of the images could have inspired Lowry in his famous stick men paintings thousands of years later; while some are simple images, others depict oddly moving scenes, such as a group of two masked men abducting a female, while two other men try to hold her back. Others show local animals, such as giraffe and hunting scenes with antelope racing away. There are also images of people playing musical instruments and those that seem to anticipate some kind of abstract expressionism.

Some of the paintings are quite easily accessible, following a quarter-mile walk across fields, and some a bit harder to get to, requiring a rocky climb. Typically the most interesting and worthwhile paintings in the series are the most difficult to reach, but at least these are slightly better protected from the recent vandalism and graffiti and the weathering that has been the sad fate of many of them. There is a very helpful guide working for the Antiquities Department in Kolo who can lead you to each of the sites, but apart from his invaluable presence little is being done to preserve this ancient artwork. The paintings are described in detail and painstakingly recreated in Vanishing African Art which contains the research materials carried out by Mary Leakey.