Pathisa Nyathi, Opinion
STONE has life.
Stone has seen it all.
This is because stone has, in relative terms, eternal life.
No wonder a song was created that refers to stone as the “Rock of Ages.”
As a result, stones have been used in graves as markers of where the remains of dead persons were interred.
Rock is placed in such a manner that positions of heads and feet are identified.
In some cultures, the dead are met and communicated with where their remains lie.
They are addressed through their head-ends.
Yet in some cultures, kings’ remains were interred in rock caves as a measure to impart eternal lives to them in spiritual form.
This was the case with the Ndebele monarchs.
King Mzilikazi’s remains were deposited in a cave between two erect rock pillars.
Erect positions, coupled with the eternal nature of stone, imparted infinity to the spirit of the King.
The same seems to have been the case with the second and last king of the Ndebele people.
The remains of King Lobengula are said to have been deposited in a cave on Mt Nsanjika in the Chipata area in Zambia where the Angoni people under the Mphezeni kings are found.
I have said stones have a multiplicity of layers of lives and meanings.
Some stones are of igneous (fire) origin, having formed when the hot magma in the core of the earth cooled down and solidified.
Such stones, when communicated with (or scientifically analysed) have a story to tell, a story dating back billions of years.
Some stones were created under massive bodies of water as sedimentary rocks.
These too saw it all.
As the deposited layers of sand were exposed, because of tectonic movements, the sedimentary rocks were metamorphosed.
That too is a story which, if we care to listen, tells tales about the past, our past, and that of our planet earth.
These are stories of the genesis of stones and other elements that constitute our planet.
They are our stories too.
When human beings were created and began the long process of evolution and genetic manipulation, rocks saw it all as they were already in existence when the parents of Homo sapiens came into being.
Stones have stories relating to early origins and evolution.
When we are dead and gone, they will have archived (documented) the inception of climate change stories to tell to future generations.
Equally important are the footprints of human habitation of the planet we call home.
Ancient humans looked at the rocks and realised its eternal nature, its resilience and that human stories could be told and preserved through the medium of rocks.
Unlike the older stories told by nature, latter stories were told and immortalised through the eternal medium rock.
That was cultural intervention.
These were cultural messages on rocks.
More often than not, we fail to figure out and make sense out of what we cannot comprehend.
The tendency is quickly to dismiss and fail to appreciate the multi-layers of their enduring that hold hope for the interpretation of their stories regarding the genesis and development of both the universe and humanity.
Ancient structures such as the monuments that served as temples and celestial stone such as David’s Calendar near Nelspruit in South Africa were created and built out of rock.
Many of the stone temples have endured for thousands of years.
To this day, they remain as incontrovertible evidence of advanced minds that preceded our own.
Stonehenge in England, the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt and many other megalithic monuments lie in anticipation that one day we shall tune in to the appropriate wavelength in which they beam messages (signals).
Even now, we are still figuring out how to receive the signals, let alone interpreting their inherent messages.
Stone was not put into architectural use only.
Some singular stones, monoliths, were dug into the ground.
They too have a story to transmit to us the deaf and blind.
We try hard to unpack messages from the ancients who we quite often regard as primitive and backward. Our handicap lies in failing to build antennae that intercept the messages emanating from stones.
This does not come as a surprise when we do not know the nature of communicated messages.
Stones are amenable to inscription or engraving.
The ancients and modern beings turn to rock to etch messages with an enduring life.
The images give rocks yet another layer of stories with artistic meanings.
Art has a life and a message. An artist draws as a way of concretising intangible mental pictures or messages which he/she wishes to communicate to a larger contemporary audience and indeed, the future audiences.
More often than not, the messages are covered up in the sands and mists of time.
With the artists long promoted to the realm of the immortals, we are hard put to decipher what the artists intended to communicate and convey through the images on rock.
This is even worse when we deal with art on the rock from the times of ancients.
Their world is lost to us.
In the absence of their knowledge and perceptions, it is difficult to even attempt unearthing messages to what is beyond our imagination.
All the same, the stones carry images with imagery replete with meaning.
The language of communication is not shared in common between the ancients and us.
Rocks carry signals that are encrypted.
Other ancients painted messages on rock as a way of immortalising the messages in picture form.
We go there to admire the paintings and sometimes do no more than marvel at the artistry.
Why draw in the first place when the artists were leading precarious lives?
Were the paintings functional perhaps?
In the case, for example, of the San rock artists who led nomadic lives, did their art stem from the same motives as those of Picasso and contemporaries?
Our tendency is to give our own meanings to what we cannot figure out.
We tend to interpret through our cultural lenses.
We splash our own world of experience on other peoples’ different worlds.
We become lifeless and callous colonists with regard to their colonised Lilliputians.
Messages of and on rocks become victims of our selfish, insensitive and self-centred interpretations.
Rocks carry stories that we do not seem able to read and cherish.
We end up trashing the stories embedded in rocks.
Iconic figures in our communities are immortalized as a way of eternalising their values, their principles and many other positive attributes.
We erect statues in stone or metal in their honour.
This we do so that they serve as eternal flames to light the way ahead for future generations.
Where statues, as veritable forms of memorialisation do not carry accompanying narratives, they degenerate into meaningless vertical stone or metal pillars or edifices.
What happens to future generations is what happens to us with regard to ancient artistic forms.
Once a human signature is attached to rock, the rock immediately takes on a new layer of meaning.
We who see the signature ought to see it as a signature that represents the artist whose signature bears some meaning.
The meaning is a story etched and perched on the older meanings of and on rock, meanings and stories relating to the hand of nature.
Indeed, the story of our past lies in and on rock, waiting for us to develop the appropriate language in which messages that live in the rock are couched.
Our greatest hope for unbundling the mysteries of our past lies in science, spirituality and the rocks, the threesome elements that seek to impart knowledge of the past about the past to us who are still groping in palpable darkness.