Traditional African Wallpainting

I have been proving over and over on these pages that mural painting is not a new trend and clearly not one originating in down-towns of big cities in Europe and USA. And this is just another evidence for this fact.

The people of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa have created their own tradition and style of house painting back in the 18th century. The expressive symbols originated from the grief suffered by the tribe -I know this might not be the best source of information, but let me quote Wikipedia here:

Until the late 1900s, these Nguni people were very fierce warriors and large land owners. in the autumn of 1883, the Ndebele people went to war with the neighboring Boer workers. The loss of the war brought on a harsh life and horrible punishments for the Ndebele. Through those hard times expressive symbols were generated by the suffering people expressing their grief. These symbols were the beginning of the African art known as Ndebele house paintings.

The Ndbele began building their mud-walled houses in the mid-18th century, and the symbols were used as a type of communication between sub groups of the Ndebele people. They stood for their continuity and cultural resistance to their current circumstances. The unique tradition of the Ndebele people has been passed on from generation to generation, from mother to daughter – the women are often the tradition carriers and the main developer of the wall art of their home. Each woman has her own style and knowledge about the different objects and symbols depicted in the artwork. A well painted home shows the female of the household is a good wife and mother. Although what seems most attractive to us are the colours, what is actually of the greatest importance are the patterns – they are one of the most important aspects in their communication through painting.

Traditionally the houses were painted in muted, natural colours extracted from nature – black from fire ash, white from stones, browns/yellows from cow dung. Pigments were often mixed with cow dung and water and then applied to the walls. The bright colours only came later, with the introduction of western and Indian paint pigments.

You can read more about the tradition and the technique on this website. 

What is on one hand striking, but on the other – a sign of the times – is that many villages now offer tours and stay in their communities for visitors who wish to witness this colourful and outstanding tradition on their own. Just google it out..(or try this one, for example). It does not change the fact that I approve of such visits if they serve the well-being of the people who live there, but do not influence their lives in a bad manner. What seems most important is that the tradition and the culture is preserved. There are fewer such traditions by the year, so let’s do our best not to lose such a precious finding.

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