Thoughts on ‘thinking strings’


  • Carolyn Thorp KwaZulu-Natal Museum, P. Bag 9070, Pietermaritzburg, 3200 South Africa; Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of South Africa, PO Box 392, UNISA, 0003 South Africa.


|Xam !gi:ten (shamans) accomplished much of their supernatural work by ‘dreaming’, in which thought played a pivotal role. According to the |Xam worldview, thought was generated by the throat arteries or ‘thinking strings’. Moreover, thoughts generated by thinking strings were conceptually similar to the blood that !gi:ten used to cure illness; both were a means of ‘working magic’. Thus, the healing power of blood was part of a conceptual system that imbued thinking strings with the capacity to facilitate various kinds of supernatural work. Thinking strings lived on as spirits after death. This conceptual system has interpretative implications for the long and often sinuous painted red lines that occur in the rock art of the Maloti-Drakensberg and in the Cederberg of southern Africa. These thin red lines probably represent the thinking strings of !gi:ten.



How to Cite

Thorp, C. (2018). Thoughts on ‘thinking strings’. Southern African Humanities, 31, 79–92. Retrieved from




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