Fishing in the Lesotho Highlands. (News & Notes)

By Hobart, John; Smits, Lucas | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview
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Fishing in the Lesotho Highlands. (News & Notes)


Hobart, John, Smits, Lucas, Antiquity


In September 1984 the Analysis Rock Art Lesotho project (ARAL) documented the site of Likhohlong ha Piti in the Lesotho Highlands. This site is unique in southern Africa in clearly depicting over 40 polychrome fish. ARAL was set up and coordinated by one of us (LS, then of the National University of Lesotho) to locate, document and photograph rock-art sites in Lesotho. Over six years more than 650 sites were recorded, many of which, including Likhohlong ha Piti, are as yet unpublished.

Likhohlong ha Piti lies on a small tributary of the Senqu River. The site contains 12 panels of art, only one of which includes fish. This panel (FIGURE 1, overleaf) shows a total of 48 fish swimming from right to left above a `barrier' that angles down from top right to bottom left. At the base of the `barrier' is a white and black `basket'. Four further `baskets' may be present; however, these are not clear. Immediately to the right of the baskets are 3 further fish, an indeterminate figure and 24 antelope-like spoor marks. To the left of the `baskets' is a seated black figure with decoration on the shoulder and wrist of the right arm as well as on the knee of the right leg; a thick red line curves down behind the individual's back (FIGURE 2). To the left of this figure is an elongated white stick figure. The whole scene measures 181x86 cm. Most of the fish are polychrome with dark red, black and white paint used in combination with clear shading and great detail (FIGURE 3); two fish are white.

[FIGURES 1-3 OMITTED]

Within Lesotho and the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, 16 images, displaying three primary fishing techniques, are known; basket fishing (Smits 1967), spearing from the bank (Smits 1973) and spearing from floats (Vinnicombe 1976). In the case of Likhohlong the interest is in the basket fishing images. Other known basket fishing scenes, all in monochrome, come from the Lesotho lowlands at Botsabelo (Smits 1967) and Bamboo Mountain in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg (Vinnicombe 1976).

An early historical account (Alexander 1838: 237) describes basket fishing by Bushmen in western South Africa; `The Boschman ... make conical baskets of stick grass.... other Boschmans ... drive the fish towards the basket-men ... who, pushing the passing fish into the baskets collect a number of them ... they empty them on the bank, where sit their women'. In 1797 John Barrow (1806: 256) describes fishing baskets from near Lesotho as being stripped, made `of reeds worked in alternate rows; one being white, and the other dark brown'. These descriptions fit the surface interpretation of this scene; it can be clearly seen that the fish are being encouraged by the barrier to swim towards the stripped basket, and to the left is a person seemingly processing the captured fish. Species identification as Labeo capensis (Orange river mudfish) (I.

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