Formlings 3: eNanke Cave, the ‘ultimate’ formling

This is eNanke Cave, in the Matobo of Zimbabwe, the final place we visit on our tour of formlings. Here is one of the largest, most spectacular, and well-preserved formlings in southern Africa.

In his book Termites of the Gods (2015) rock art researcher Siyakha Mguni argues that the formlings are paintings of what some 20th century San people call ‘God’s house’, the divine residence of the Great God.
God’s house is the ultimate source of cosmic potency, and the formlings are, as Mguni puts it, “wombs of creative potency”.

He bases his argument on close observations of details in the paintings, the natural history of termites, and records of San hunter-gatherer beliefs. To grasp his argument you need to follow it through step-by-step.

The formling at Nanke is much bigger than your ‘average’ formling – over 2 metres wide and at least 1,2 m tall in places! It is surrounded by a variety of San ‘power animals’ – those species believed to have potency – such as elephant, kudu, zebra and eland.

There are especially many giraffe painted around and inside the chambers of this massive nest structure, as well as very uncommon paintings of fish (at left of formling) and termite alates (to the right). Many of the paintings show the use of shading and subtle tone transitions. The presence of such a variety of delicately painted and unusual creatures is perhaps in keeping with the massive and detailed formling.

More unusually, there are paintings of people (or spirit beings) that seem to be part of the formling itself.

There are some very detailed and strange looking humans with white faces and red stripes behind (or coming out of) a part of the formling that looks like a thumbnail. Just above them is a snake-like form in red and white that is draped over the large thumb-like part of the formling and stretches over to lie across another, smaller, thumb-like shape. There are three long red lines hanging down from this snake-like image with small white shapes at the end, and pairs of very small red flecks of paint in close proximity.

At the other end of the formling are images of human heads (also white-faced) that are perhaps emerging from inside the chambers of the formling, as though they were larvae hatching out of their nest chamber! And instead of the more commonly painted rows of tiny dots, here the artists made a circular pattern and two bands on a small, single chamber from which a human head protrudes.

We currently have no explanation for what these human images signify, but their depiction here is potential information about the relationship between people and formlings for future researchers who want to explore the further intricacies of formlings.