Whilst busy finishing a charcoal drawing of lift off on Hahnemuhle etching paper, I am also preparing for my first Intaglio print. I hope my etching will compliment the drawing I started during a previous blog. I am influenced to use a painting of Clara the rhinoceros in my etching. Clara, and Indian Rhinoceros, was being taken around Europe for at least 17 years – in the painting I am inspired by, Clara is shown to the public at the Venice Carnival and was painted by Pietro Longhi in 1751. My attempt is to focus on our complex relationship with the rhinoceros.
Photo reference material for the rhino drawing, was taken from the website and Youtube videos of Rhinos without Borders. Theirs is an effort to translocate vulnerable rhinos to safer areas within bordering Botswana. These rhinos are mostly from private landowners within South Africa. A leading luxury travel company, andBeyond and Great Plains Conservation are part of this initiative. By November 2017, 77 animals were safely in Botswana. Currently many rhinos are being translocated to safer areas as well as to enhance gene pools.
I have now come to an understanding that humanity have seen and known about the imminent extinction of Sudan and the last Northern White Rhinoceros sup species without doing much to protect the species. Their numbers started to decline since the early 1900s, due to unsustainable hunting practices, lack of coordinated conservation efforts by governments and escalating poaching, corruption and wars in these affected countries.
Poachers reduced their population from 2000 to 500 in the 1960s , and to a shocking number of only 15 by 1984. In 1977, all African rhino species were listed under Appendix I, and all international commercial trade in rhinos and their products was prohibited. Till mid 2003 this population recovered to more than 32, however poaching has intensified and these numbers were further reduced.
I have done a lot of reading prior to starting my “exploration with lines’ writings, and a brilliant writing I enjoyed by prof Linda Kalof (published 2007) gave me wonderful context to understand (and attempt to draw) this complex interrelationship between humans and animals informed by cultural norms, as well as the physical attributes and the real or perceived behaviour of animals. It inspired me to look at the history of art and animals such as a rhinoceros. It is a visual narrative of our fascination with strong, powerful and dangerous animals, symbols that could be used in rituals, festivals…. even making animals scapegoats and opening up all moral questions about animal cruelty. The Four Stages of Cruelty, done by William Hogarth in 1751, where graphic torture against animals are shown as a logical progression to move from animal cruelty to humans influenced my mindset to look at the current horrific trafficking of animals and animal body parts within the criminal world. The insatiable demand for rhino horn in the East is underpinned by age-old beliefs in its presumed pharmacological properties, in particular as an antidote against poison, to treat fevers and as a cure for cancer and other illnesses.
Whilst researching this topic, I found an interesting article at SA Humanities.org, July 2014, ‘The cultural and symbolic significance of the African rhinoceros: a review of the traditional beliefs, perceptions and practices of agra-pastoralist societies in Southern Africa” (written by Jan C A Boeyens and M van der Ryst). Understanding this information as looking at rhinos in a pre-colonial period of Southern Africa, I believe this information should be seen as national heritage and be shared to evoke re action towards the poaching of rhinos for their horns, and driving the species to extinction. I do not know enough to have an opinion on Anthropology, but l understand their research has revealed that African cosmology, social life and material culture are marked by rich symbolism.
I take away with me the rhinoceros as part of Southern African metaphors, proverbs and rituals. The rhinoceros as the ruler/ leader/political power and his ever following companion, the oxpecker bird… a friend or protector. ( The Tswana people named this bird kala ya tshukudu, meaning the servant of the rhinoceros, an association which enriched the Tswana language with many metaphors). A cut from the breast of a slaughtered rhinoceros was the preserve of a chief and was received as tribute from his subjects. The presentation of a cut-off rhino head to a defiant leader or a subject chief conveyed a clear message that subordination would not be tolerated and that magic would be applied to restore the political order. Praise poems of Tswana chiefs, regents and other aspiring leaders or heroes abound with references to the rhino as a leadership symbol. At least fifteen praise poems have been documented in which such dignitaries are either addressed or referred to as a rhinoceros, or are associated with characteristics or powers attributed to the rhinoceros. The rhino metaphor also features prominently in praise poems of Tswana chiefs. In this regard, too, there is a strong emphasis on the horns of the rhino as the key anatomical trait that epitomised the danger, aggression, authority, protection and military success of a leader. The front horn was not only a weapon of attack and defence, but its cutting action symbolised the final authority and decision-making responsibilities of the chief. The rhinoceros were hunted for its meat but various parts, such as the skin and horn, were used to fashion ornaments and weapons. A special club of rhino horn served as a marker of chiefly authority. ( I will try to find a photographic copy of this club in our National Museum of Cultural History)
Rhino horns and bones also featured in rainmaking rituals. Monoliths adorning the central courts of nineteenth-century Tswana towns, as well as the walls or courts of Zimbabwe culture and Venda capitals, most probably represented rhino horns, and so captured the key qualities of African leadership in the architecture of towns.
The remains of a few rhino figurines that have been recovered from archaeological sites in South Africa tells that they served as “aids to memory” in lessons on traditional customs, norms and beliefs, and were mostly displayed at initiation ceremonies. It also seems that the iconic golden rhinoceros from Mapungubwe “was most likely an emblem of royal power”.
The power of the golden rhinoceros was recognised by the first post-apartheid administration in South Africa, the African National Congress, the ANC appropriated the golden rhinoceros for the new South Africa and held it up as evidence of a southern African Renaissance before the arrival of Europeans. In 1999, the gold rhinoceros was designated a National Treasure. In 2002, the ANC created the Order of Mapungubwe, the highest honour in South Africa, of which there are four classes: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Nelson Mandela was the first to receive the highest of these awards, platinum. At the centre of the award is a representation of the gold rhinoceros.
Ps:This is directly taken from mentioned published article: “Trade in rhinoceros horn, ivory and tortoise-shell along the East African coast with Arabia and the Orient was first recorded in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a guide that was probably compiled in about AD 100 (Hall 1987: 78). Although there is no direct evidence, it seems plausible that unworked rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory tusks and probably gold could have constituted export items earmarked for external or international trade reaching the East Coast from Middle Iron Age communities in the Shashe-Limpopo Basin (Calabrese 2005: 350–2). Whether, or to what extent, perceptions and beliefs prevalent in the East about the presumed medicinal or supernatural properties of rhino horn would have permeated into the African interior is difficult to gauge, but the external demand for rhino horn would certainly have added to its local commercial value and enhanced its cultural significance. ”
I have decided to place my rhino being lifted to safety above the Union Buildings. A question I want to leave the reader/viewer with, is: what are we doing to save our white and black rhinos in South Africa?