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Rock Art Research Institute (RARI)

Over the years, researchers from the Institute have scoured the Maluti Mountains of the Free State and the Drakensberg Mountains of Kwazulu-Natal/Eastern Cape, seeking out and analysing rock paintings.

Many experts describe the rock art of this area as the finest in the world. But, the art of this area is now known for more than just its beauty. 25 years of research at the Institute has made this amongst the best understood of the all the world's rock arts. Using knowledge of San beliefs, researchers have shown that the art played a fundamental part in the religious lives of its San painters. The art captured things from the San's world behind the rock-face: the other world inhabited by spirit creatures, to which dancers could travel in animal form, and where people of ecstasy could draw power and bring it back for healing, rain-making and capturing the game.


Whilst work continues in these mountains and our understanding of this art grows ever more detailed, new research projects now take the expertise of the Institute to all parts of South Africa and to many countries beyond. As the Institute has grown, it has sought to serve an ever larger section of the African continent. Currently projects are underway in all South African Provinces as well as in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya.

This new research is rich in its diversity; it includes the rock arts of San and Pygmy hunter-gatherers, Khoi and Nilotic pastoralists, as well as of African farmers such as the Chewa and the Northern Sotho. Underpinning this diverse research is a focus on the complex symbolism of African image-making. In particular, the Institute seeks to understand, through rock art, how people in Africa perceived and responded to social changes during the last ten thousand years and through the colonial process; in this manner the Institute strives to produce a history of the continent that is based on African perceptions rather than just colonial records.

All of the important findings from research at the Institute are made available to the people of South Africa and the world via popular books, exhibitions, newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television interviews, conferences and over the internet. A complete list of Institute publications can be found on this website along with news about our current projects, forthcoming exhibitions and conferences.