Introduction to Chadian Culture and Art
Chad is located on the southern edge of the Sahara, below Libya and adjacent to the Sudan.
When most people think of the Sahara, they conjure up an image of a dry, hot, and inhospitable desert. This was not always the case, and the area once had a climate more conducive to human habitation. In addition to leaving behind stone tools, bracelets, beads, and shards of pottery, the inhabitants of the Sahara have, over thousands of years, also left behind rock art in the form of pictographs
Chad is host to a variety of animals and plants, and was even more so in the past. Current animals include antelope, gazelles, leopards, monkeys, ostriches, panthers, and wild sheep. Despite being dry, the region has a number of locust trees and other vegetation, most of it growing during when the rains come. Animals in Chad are migratory, following the rains to new sources of temporary pastures.
Humans Have Migratory Lifestyle
The human inhabitants of Chad were, and still are, of necessity, migratory. After domesticating sheep and cattle, they grazed large herds on the pastures which spring up after the rains, since sedentary agriculture has always been impossible given the climate. Over a period of time, camels replaced sheep and cows as the preferred animal for the arid climate. This change was reflected in the rock art.
Chad's rock art was produced over a long period of time and evolved considerably, having no less than fifteen distinct styles. These styles differ in the depictions of animals and humans, dress, weapons, and in the color scheme. Some styles outline the subject matter, while others fill the image with dots or checks.
The color scheme was limited to minerals available in the area, mostly red ochre
Other colors were, in decreasing order of use, white
, and violet. Brown
was used only in certain periods. Yellow, made from yellow ochre
, appears rarely. The most common combination was red and white. These pigments were ground to a fine powder and mixed with fat, and were then applied to the rock walls.
Pictographs Vulnerable to Climate
Pictographs are highly vulnerable to the Saharan environment and not many remain Between the constant bright light, wind storms which scour the rocks with abrasive particles, temperature extremes, and intense rain storms, much of the exposed rock art must have been obliterated over the centuries. That which survives was protected from the elements to some degree, such as in caves or under rocky overhangs.
Much of the rock art in Chad is found in the Ennedi hills in north-eastern Chad. These hills are a massif, somewhat triangular, of sandstone on top of a granite base. Erosion has carved the hills into terraces, with high plains dropping to steep gorges. The region has regular rainfall during the summer, with rivers flowing a few times a year.
(4 - 5 B.C. to 2 B.C.)
The archaic period
is difficult to date with certainty. The rock art of this period is generally limited to wild animals. At this time raising domestic animals had not yet spread into northern Africa.
Subject Matter for Archaic Period Art
Animals depicted include elephants, giraffes, ostriches, and panthers. Humans have round heads and are generally unclothed except for a loincloth. Weapons consists of bows, clubs, and sticks. Some figures have lines or dots indicating hair, clothing, or jewelry.
By the end of the archaic period the subject matter had broadened to show dancers, runners, men shooting arrows, and women carrying baskets on their heads.
(2 B.C. to 1,000 A.D.)
The bovine period
is named for the rock art subject matter: domesticated cattle. The climate in Chad during this period was harsh, and the importance of grazing animals as a food source cannot be underestimated. Even today, milk is given to guests to avoid dehydration in the arid climate.
Early Bovine Art Reflects Turmoil
During the early part of this period weapons are usually depicted as spears and bows. The scenes often depict stick figure humans armed with bows and accompanied by dogs.
Improvements to Life Reflected in Art
During the middle part of this period life must have improved significantly. The cattle depicted appear to be well-fed and the humans wear robes and headdresses topped by feathers.
The men carry spears or bows and quivers. The women have sophisticated hair arrangements, jewelry, and wide, full-length skirts. Depicted jewelry includes necklaces and bracelets, as well as jewelry on the ears and forehead.
Scenes From Domestic Life Appear
Towards the end of the period new art obviously representing domestic life beings to appear: women grinding grain into flour, containers filled with flour or grain, huts, musicians playing harps, women dancing or talking, etc. Weapons include the traditional bows and spears, with the addition of foliated spears and curved throwing clubs.
At the end of the bovine period domesticated animals like cows and sheep are shown in large herds, but with less detail for the individual animals. The spear becomes the most common weapon, and shields are shown as shielding warriors.
Dromedary or Equine Period
(A.D. 1000 to circa A.D. 1700)
The dromedary period
is, like the bovine period, named for the rock art subject matter: domesticated dromedarys, which are a type of camel, and horses. This period is, however, most commonly called the "dromedary period". Horses likely appeared after the camels.
Islam's Spread Ends Rock Art
This period began with good artistic technique and then deteriorated over time with the adoption of Islam.
Towards the end of the period, the quality of the horses and dromedarys degraded and the subject matter changed. The riders became warriors wearing large feathers on their heads and armed with short spears. The animal's tails and their bridles are depicted with studded with spikes along their length. Cattle are still quite common, but they are more and more stylized.
At the very end of the period the animals became completely stylized. Dromedarys, cattle, and horses appear much like large toothed combs.
Post-Islamic Rock Art Extinct
(circa A.D. 1700 to Present)
Rock Art in Chad Now Extinct
The end of Chad's rock art came with the advent of Islam. Not only did Islam suppress the native religions, but its prohibition on the representation of any living creature made it impossible for Chad's artists to continue.
Today, bored young shepherds still draw stylized animals on the same walls their ancestors did, but they now use animal dung instead of paints. Chadian rock art is now, by any real standards, extinct.