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Ancestral San art vandalised – The Namibian

NAMIBIA is renowned for its ancient San rock art, which showcases the heritage and traditions of the indigenous people, unfortunately, recent incidents of vandalism and ignorance have led to the defacing of these priceless masterpieces.

Marcel Meier, who described himself as an enthusiastic conservationist and adventurer, and who is well acquainted with Namibia’s remote areas, was grieved when he discovered millennia-old San rock art destroyed forever at two different, but well-known, locations: the Spitzkoppe and Desolation Valley, located along the Huab River in the Twyfelfontein area.

Twyfelfontein is a rock art site located in Kunene region, and is considered one of the most important rock art sites in Africa and has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. The site is characterised by a series of rock engravings and paintings that are estimated to be over 6 000 years old and provide a unique insight into the beliefs, custom, and way of life of Namibia’s ancestral people.

While travelling through Erongo and Kunene early last month, Meier found that parts of the famous rock art at the Spitzkoppe were seemingly chopped or chiselled from the rock face.

“It is uncertain whether the culprits attempted to remove (but preserve) the pieces of rock art to possibly keep, or sell, or if they just wanted to destroy the rock. What is certain is that the art is gone forever,” he lamented.

About 200 kilometres further, at some rock art locations at Desolation Valley, which is considered remote and “hidden” from mainstream tourism for the sake of preserving the natural environment, Meier, to his horror, discovered rock art tainted with thick black markers that were used to outline four hands. The names of the culprits were added to the outlined hands. It is expected this was done during the last festive season as the year (2022) was also included.

“These paintings have been there for thousands of years, and are part of Namibia’s rich heritage. There are many sites like this in Namibia, and tourists pay a lot of money to see this. What will they see now?” he bemoaned.

Not only is a treasure of natural and cultural heritage destroyed for good, but the vandalism also has socio-economic repercussions. Without them, tourists have no need to pay to see them, or to even go there – where rural communities live in conservancies that depend on tourism.

“There are guides at Spitzkoppe who earn their bread and butter from tourists coming to see the rock art there, and these guides have a deep knowledge about these paintings. The vandalism has basically taken the food out of their mouths,” Meier bewailed.

He called on people – locals and visitors – to respect the value of such heritage. He is also hoping for more attention on securing such sites.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Romeo Muyunda, told this newspaper it was the first time the matter was brought to the ministry’s attention.

“These paintings are under the management of the conservancy, but our staff members have been sent to investigate,” he said.

Questions were sent to the National Heritage Council of Namibia’s archaeology division and heritage management department, but no response was received from them by the time of going to print.

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