The mysterious rock carvings of Tchitundo-hulo

Tchitundo-hulo first caught the attention of scientists around half a century ago. Back in 1952, the geologist Camarate França began work on the site. In 1954, the German ethnologist Herman Baumann catalogued the rock carvings and paintings of Tchitundo-hulo Mulume. Baumann went on to discover Tchitundo-hulo Mucai.

In the 1970s, Angolan researchers Carlos Ervedosa and Santos Júnior worked on the site. Santos Júnior registered previously unseen rock carvings at Tchitundo-hulo Mulume, and he discovered the granite carvings of Pedra da Lagoa and Pedra das Zebras.

Tchitundo-hulo Mulume boasts around two thousand carvings, mostly of geometric design. The complex overlapping of circles and straight lines creates a labyrinth of images that are very hard to interpret.

According to Ervedosa and Júnior: “the rock carvings (…) seem to have been hammered into the surface of the rock and the grooves have then been rubbed, possibly following the markings of existing drawings.”

The researchers go on: “It is easy to see that not all the carvings date from the same period. From the earliest faint and smooth carvings to the most recent marks (…) we can observe many intermediate stages, proving that there has been a long tradition of rock carving at Tchitundo-hulo.”

Santos Júnior outlines various reasons for claiming that these are ancient rock carvings, one being the sheer quantity of rock carvings at the site. The numerous carvings “show that over an extensive period of time, this granite mount was used for different ceremonies in which rock carvings on stone ground must have played a central role.”

“We can also conclude that only a permanent settlement could have left such an exuberant array of carvings marking their presence on the rockface.

“The ancient nature of these rock carvings date back, therefore, to a period when local conditions were less severe than those experienced today. The site lies on the edge of a desert, where rainfall is infrequent and scarce and there is a great shortage of water.

The harsh conditions of today mean that Tchitundo-hulo is only visited by the Cuvale nomads who shelter for a short while near the rock as they search for pastures and water for their cattle.

The inselbergs provide only temporary shelter, however, for the pastoralists. The wandering communities erect ‘sambos’ (fences of thorn bushes) to herd the cattle overnight. The herders make conical-shaped huts covered in cow dung with a small opening at the front, sometimes with a short flap serving as a shade.

José Redinha’s 1975 ethnography map of Angola places Tchitundo-hulo in an area stretching to the foothills of Chela. It is occupied by the Cuíssis, with the Cuvales living to the west.

The names Tchitundo-hulo Mulume and Tchitundo-hulo Mucai stand for man and woman. The two inselbergs stand about a kilometre apart, the former has multiple rock carvings, with an overhang or shelter with drawings on its roof.

Camarate França noted that these particular inselbergs were named ‘mother and daughter’ by the local population, but the memory of why they had been given these names has been lost.

It is safe to say that the word Tchitundo means hill or mount, but the word ‘hulo’ has many possible interpretations.

In March 1970, Cornelius Prinsloo mentions to Santos Júnior that Tchitundo-hulo could mean ‘Mount Sky’. Júnior interpreted certain groupings of concentric circles ― especially those with rays emanating from them ― as a representation of the stars. These motifs are a recurring image in the carvings.

Dr. Alberto Machado Cruz, curator of Huíla Museum, states that there is evidence of an encampment at the summit of the mount, called Tchitundo-hulo (Sky Camp).

Father Carlos Estermann points out: “As for the word ‘hulo’, let us consider that its precise meaning is not the one attributed to it. Holy Mount would give us Tchitundo-n’cola, as ‘n’cola’ or ‘uncola’ means holy. To call the inselberg Mount Sky, its translation would need to be Tchitundo-èúlo, as ‘èúlo’ means sky.”

According to the reverend, ‘hulo’ could mean final, or last. He adds that: “‘ondjila hulo’ means the final road, the end of the road, or path’s end”.

Santos Júnior concludes:

“Death is the end of the road in a man’s life, it is the final end. We could then hypothesise that this particular mount is revered by the local population as a special place where the dead have been honoured, where death rites and funeral ceremonies have been performed.”

How many rock carvings might we yet discover? They may disappear, alas, in our lifetime, destroyed with impunity by vandals unaware of their immense importance.

“(…) a great number of star motifs, circles and abstract designs (…),  and a small number of medium to large-sized mammals. There is a marked absence of anthropomorphic drawings (…) carving superimposed upon carving, from the faintest and most rubbed (these form the greater part of the collection), to the most recently engraved drawings, [lead us to] conclude that there has been rock carving at Tchitundo-hulo Mulume from yesteryear to the not so distant past”.

“We found only six identifiable drawings of animals, namely three antelopes, one jackal and two snakes. There may well be more but they have escaped our notice.”


in AUSTRAL nº50, article provided by TAAG - Linhas Aéreas de Angola

Photo: Emídio Canha

by Dario Melo
Vou lá visitar | 9 August 2010 | Namibe, rock art, Tchitundo-hulo