May 012014

The Singing Stones of Africa

The notion of jungle drums is an image of old Africa as ubiquitous as cartoons of missionaries in cooking pots. It’s true, missionaries and a few others white explorers were eaten in days long gone, but the drumming continues. It’s the best way to communicate in places where you cannot see beyond the tree canopy. It’s also a great party starter.

But in ancient times there was a far more important kind of music that issued forth, virtually from the ground. In his book ‘The Lightning Bird’ paranormal scientific writer Lyall Watson alludes to special stones. The book is a biography of “white boy” Adrian Boshier who was initiated into the way of the spirits, the ancient lore of Africa, by one tribe.

Among the things he learned was that, hidden in secret places, were special stones, rocks really, that made music. Not any kind of music, but sounds that could talk to the ancestors. In Africa the spirit world, where the ancestors reside, is the heart of belief systems. Even today, from cattle herder to president, no black person would turn his or her back on their ancestors.

They are to be consulted in times of trouble as much as for important celebrations and rites of passage. When struck these rocks, usually granite or dolerite, issue forth clear, bell-like tones. Rock gongs are invariably associated with rock paintings, implying they are, together, sacred sites.

Rock gongs, or lithophones are found not only in Africa but also at some European and Asian archaeological sites. However, it’s where they are still in use. In the Serengeti game reserve Roger photographed rock gongs on top of a granite koppie with a series of perfectly hemispherical indents ground into the rocks. When struck with a hand-held stone, you have a rock piano.

Local pastoral communities were evicted from the area when it was declared a game reserve back in 1951, without any consideration for their ties to the land. Since then these rocks have remained mute and, like the rock paintings of Africa, offer a fading memory of a time when the ancestors – including ours – roamed these plains.

David Bristow

The Singing Stones of Africa

The Singing Stones of Africa