Saturday, December 11, 2010

History and Culture Written in Sand

In looking at pictures of Angola’s traditional sand drawings, the uninitiated would never believe they were viewing an artform dating back more than 300 years. Stylish and clean cut, these mono-linear designs would surely grace the walls of any modern-day gallery or art-lover’s plush apartment, but in reality they are telling stories of history and culture past.

Sona sand drawings (LuSona) are native to the Chokwe people, of which an estimated 500,000 live in Angola’s eastern provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul. Striking in their elegance, the illustrations disclose a much deeper form of communication, encompassing traditional rituals, problem-solving techniques and ancient legends of Angola. Even today, they remain a key adjunct to Angola’s age-old tradition of storytelling and a vital tool in educating local communities of the region.

The drawings themselves, according Mrs Skogen, an anthropologist and designer, are not dissimilar to Celtic knot designs, the geometric algorithms used by the ancient Egyptians, the mono-linear images drawn in Mesopotamia and by the Tamils in India. But she maintains that the Sona created by the Chokwe people, regarded as the main developers of the sand drawing tradition, are some of the finest around.

“I believe the Chokwe people are the best in the world at this technique,” Mrs Skogen says. “Their drawings are very sophisticated. They produce beautiful designs, but they also reveal fascinating stories; treasures of Angolan culture that reveal a 'distant heritage'".

Here is an story example based on the drawing seen on the left titled, The Boy and the Lion    A boy and a lion, who had grown up together and had always been good friends, went hunting one day. The boy killed a deer, after which he fell unconscious. Immediately, the lion made a fire and prepared a remedy to revive him. When the two friends returned to the village with their trophy, there was a celebration which cemented their friendship.

Some time later, the two went hunting again and this time the lion killed an antelope buffalo. The lion then fell to the ground, pretending to have fainted. The boy thought the lion was dead and wishing to be considered the bravest hunter in the land, he prepared to make an amulet with the dead lion’s eyes, nose and ears. As he got ready to cut the lion, it jumped up, and seeing the treachery of his friend, slew him. Ever since, those two great hunters – lion and man – have never been seen together.

With Angola's new freedom and openness, it seems the Sona sand drawings are set for a new lease of life. Thanks in part to a book coauthored by anthropologist Skogen , which reproduces some 60 drawings from around 350 which are known to exist, the tradition of sand drawings has sparked great excitement among the country’s artists and culture-lovers, many of whom were previously unaware of this fascinating part of their history.

“These sand drawings are the people’s culture. They speak about the reality of life in Angola. They are not created or imagined. No one is dreaming this up,” Skogen says. “The Sona is the real life of the Chokwe people.”  (Sonangol Universo Magazine)
lion’s eyes, nose and ears. As he got ready to cut the lion, it jumped up, and seeing the treachery of his friend, slew him. Ever since, those two great hunters – lion and man – have never been seen together.

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