African Archaeological Review

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 279–300 | Cite as

Schematic Rock Art, Rain-Making and Islam in the Ethio-Sudanese Borderlands

  • Víctor M. Fernández
Original Article


Two sites with schematic rock paintings in Western Ethiopia, where Islamic ceremonies connected with rain-making are performed and miraculous events are said to occur regularly, are interpreted in the light of such factors as the beliefs of local informants, the Islamic appropriation of prehistoric rituals in Northern Africa, the characteristics of similar sites linked to rain-making rituals throughout Eastern Africa and the apotropaic meaning of schematic marks in many traditional cultures. Probably painted by the ancestors of the current Koman language speakers during the Later Stone Age or shortly afterwards, the rock art contextual analysis reveals the complexity of interregional relationships and processes affecting the multi-ethnic frontier regions in pre-colonial times and shows how the local groups have recombined prehistoric and historic religions and ideologies into an original mix that bears witness to the region’s multifaceted history.


Rock art Rain making Islamic religion Apotropaic figures Berta Koman Benishangul Western Ethiopia 


Cet article examine deux sites contenant des peintures rupestres schématiques à la frontière de l'Ethiopie occidentale, où des rites islamiques relatifs à la pluie sont pratiqués et où des événements miraculeux se produisent régulièrement. Ces sites peuvent être interprétés en fonction de plusieurs facteurs, entre autres l'opinion des informateurs locaux, l'appropriation par la religion islamique des rituels préhistoriques en Afrique du Nord, les sites similaires associés aux cérémonies d’invocation de la pluie en Afrique de l’est, et la signification apotropaïque des schémas décoratifs dans de nombreuses cultures. L’art fut probablement peint par les ancêtres des actuels peuples de langues Koman lors de l’Age de la Pierre Tardive, ou peu après, et son analyse contextuelle montre comment les régions frontalières multiethniques ont été touchées par un complexe système de relations interrégionales et processus précoloniaux, et comment les religions et les idéologies préhistoriques et historiques ont été recyclées par les populations de la frontière éthiopique-soudanaise dans un ensemble original d'éléments qui témoigne de cette histoire plurielle.



The survey work was funded by the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España-Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Bienes Culturales (Ministry of Culture, Spain) (2001–2003) and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (2005). Alfredo González-Ruibal, Alfonso Fraguas and Álvaro Falquina participated in the field-work. The Ethiopian Authority for the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage was represented by Gigar Tesfay and Dawit Tibebu, and the Benishangul-Gumuz Culture and Tourism Bureau by Tesfay Oli, Geremew Feyissa and Geremew Yenesew. Andreas Neudorf, from the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and Christoff Herrmann from the German Development Cooperation were of great help in Assosa. The text was translated or corrected by José M. Bueso. I thank the local informants from Menge, Al Mammoun Tilahun, Mubarak Ashafi, Al Fadul Babiker, Muhammad Nekura and the Mayor Osman M. Musa for their precious information on the meaning of the rock art. My thanks also go to Prof. Mercedes García-Arenal (CSIC, Madrid) for her help with the literature on Islamic traditional rituals and Dr. Alfredo González-Ruibal (CSIC, Santiago de Compostela) for his many fruitful suggestions. I also thank the journal reviewers for their thorough reading of the text and insightful suggestions.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de PrehistoriaUniversidad ComplutenseMadridSpain

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