The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (Vintage Books)
I visited the Cultural History Museum in Pretoria recently, and was once again fascinated by the San exhibit, which gives a brief but engaging insight into the people who have lived in our country for thousands of years.
From what I read at the exhibition, the San live a life inextricably bound to the earth, and their beliefs are a complex system of relationships, between everything from shape shifting gods that take various animal forms to the spiritually significant eland, which features in many examples of San rock art.
In this way, I feel like the San are similar to the Aborigines in Australia, who also have a very complex belief system that is rooted to the land, and who also have a very rich heritage of rock art in certain areas in the Outback, according to a travel documentary I saw a while ago.
But before I read The Songlines, I didn’t really know much about the Aborigines at all, and to be honest, I still don’t.
However, Bruce Chatwin’s notebook-style journey into the Outback was a very interesting insight into the Aboriginal belief system, and how everything in the world was “sang” into being, and how patterns of song trace the journey of ancestor animals across the country.
Chatwin’s style of writing is a bit pedantic at times, and I found some of the chapters more laborious than others, but overall I was grateful to a friend for lending me a copy of the book, as it provided a very welcome change in perspective.
For me, Chatwin’s main argument was a challenge to the commonly held belief that men should be content to remain in one place.
As something that enjoys travelling more than most people I know, this is a point of view I can truly appreciate.
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