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Mwela Rock Paintings

Date of Submission: 10/03/2009
Criteria: (iii)(v)(vi)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
National Heritage Conservation Commission
State, Province or Region:
Zambia, Northern Zambia
Ref.: 5425

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Mwela Rock paintings are located about 5 Km from Kasama town and encompassing eastwards rock outcrops of Mwankole, Sumina, Mulundu, Fwambo, Changa Mwibwe and westwards 10 Km from the town Lwimbo rock outcrops. The paintings are associated with the Later Stone Age.

The topography of the site is generally fairly undulating and deeper soils are more frequent, where as the central part is generally flat. The outcrops form part of the boundary of the extension of the main plateau areas. The site is also incised by abundant streams and extends over 100 Km2. More than 1000 paintings have been recorded in the rock outcrops, making Mwela Rock Paintings National Monument as one of the densest concentrations of rock art sites anywhere in Africa.

The site is protected under the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC) Act, Cap 173 of the laws of Zambia and was declared collectively as a National Monument under Government notice No. 255 of 1964 bearing the name of Mwela. Part of the area is further protected under the Forestry Act as it falls within the Kasama Forestry Reserve area under the traditional leadership of Senior Chief Mwamba of the Bemba people of northern Zambia.

Kasama Town falls within the extensions of the main plateau with elevation ranging from 1320 to 1535m. It comprises of highlands surrounding the Lake basin area, stretching from Kasama through Mbala, Mporokoso and Kawambwa to Mansa. This plateau region forms part of the Continental divide (up warped plateau) and represents the remnants of the once extensive Miocene peneplain surface.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Prehistoric art, as a visual narrative of culture, demonstrates the common heritage of all humanity. It constitutes the bulk of evidence of the cultural and intellectual history of humankind before the advent of written communication and serves as a means to delineate a people's cultural identity.

The intrinsic values of the cultural landscape of Mwela rocks stem from the way the cultural beliefs of people over many millennia have been inspired and influenced by its rock formations and associated features, and particular species of fauna and flora. Mwela rock art bears testimony to a cultural tradition (rock art), which is no longer practiced. The art provides an insight into past human life of the Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers, and how they interacted with their environment through time and space.

The paintings are of outstanding beauty and intricate detail depicting individual and social needs, as well as conceptual and communicative motivations at different stages of development. They are an exceptional example that illustrates the social practices and religious beliefs of those that executed them and attest to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which has disappeared from the area.

Currently, strong religious beliefs, such as rain-making and burial rites, fostered by the Mwela rocks landscape continue to play an important role in contemporary communities. The rock art of the site illustrates and underlines the irreplaceable and valuable heritage for mankind and highlights its exceptional spiritual and historical significance. It creates a thread of meaning and understanding in the ancient story of humankind.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Mwela Rocks cultural landscape supports an ecosystem with a low diversity of habitats, ranging from open grasslands and wetlands to kopjes and a few caves. The rock art in the area is authentic in terms of style, material, location and setting.

Mwela rocks cultural landscape is endowed with living intangible values that are integral to the daily livelihood of local communities. Traditional management systems are enforced at important sites through spiritual and traditional leadership. At all the shrines, for example, the traditional custodian ensures adherence to traditional taboos and restrictions, including dress code and behaviour at the shrine. The taboos and beliefs, which authenticate the intangible values and living traditions in the area, bind the cultural and natural values of Mwela rocks.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Mwela Rock cultural landscape compares favourably with other sites in the region. The Chongoni Forest Rock art site in Malawi and Kondoa rock art site in Tanzania, that are both on the World Heritage list, have similar themes in their rock art, but Mwela rock art site has the highest concentration of rock art in the southern African sub region.