Nyero Rock Paintings

Nyero rock paintings are one of the most exciting historical ancient sites in Uganda found in the Eastern region of Uganda in Ngora district which is 250 kilometers from Kampala the capital city of Uganda and approximately 10 kilometers from Kumi district. Nyero rock paintings is the most unique ancient rock art in Uganda of six panels painted on a granite outcrop of Moru Ikara with numerous figures of concentric circles, zebras, canoes, and people. Because of its uniqueness and showcasing ancient genius skills of the people, Nyero is Uganda’s oldest rock that the site was declared a UNESCO world heritage site on 10th September 1997 in the cultural category.

Nyero rock paintings site dates back 12000 years ago, during the documentary of 1913 the rocks the researchers noticed and described the nature of the rock’s paints as geometric nature, the rock art is part of the homogeneous tradition which is always depicted in red pigment spread across east, central and parts of southern Africa sharing resemblance with the Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer culture. Initially, the rock artwork was thought to be belonging San (Bushmen) of southern Africa but later according to the archaeological, genetic and ethnographic evidence the rock paintings were proven to belong to the ancestors of the Batwa people. Batwa people were pygmy hunter-gatherers who lived in mountainous forests of Virunga volcanoes on the Uganda- Rwandan border currently they live in relatively small groups on the outskirts of their former home which is gazetted as national parks

Painting in the Nyero rock site enriches more of the cultural identity of the Iteso tribe of people. Some recent studies propose that the rock art belongs to other human groups and not the Batwa pygmy hunter-gatherers. The studies go on to propose that the rocks were used as shelters by a semi-nomadic group of people who were devoted to herding animals because it was strategically located away from the flatlands. The rock site are believed to have been sacred places of the gods, the red and white paintings are still valuable to iteso people though they were very mysterious as the painters are not known. As of the past times iteso people used to pay offerings and sacrifices to the gods on a seasonal basis for blessing, misfortune, rain problems, and childbearing. This activity is evidenced in Nyero shelter 3 as there are traces of smoke still visible in the caves, in 1970 during the Idi Amin regime the practices were abolished.

As a tourist Nyero rock painting site is the perfect Uganda Safari destination if you want to take a dreamy trip to the ancient times through the six shelters which make up the site.

Nyero Rock Paintings
Nyero Rock Paintings

Nyero shelter 1. Nyero shelter 1 is a small rock consisting of a low overhanging rock perched above and being supported by three rocks, the overhanging rock is made up of six sets of concentric circles in white color on the outer edge. It also has acacia pods shaped paintings and these paintings were once used for sacred rituals for rainmaking and fertility.

Nyero shelter 2. Nyero shelter 2 is the main shelter in the Nyero rock painting site, the site is a 10 meters high vertical rock which is against the back wall with an overhanging rock weighing approximately 20000 tons. Paintings in this shelter were done in shades of red, in this painting of more than forty different drawings concentric circles are the more dominant form in the paintings and also there is one large acacia pod design also called a canoe. The paintings in this shelter are protected from direct rain by the overhanging rock and from direct sun by the rocks on the sides, the shelter consists of a narrow passage on the south-eastern side between the boulders which leads to a small dark shelter which consists a small cavity known as the pocket. This pocket is a place where the early inhabitants used to offer gifts to their gods as appreciation offerings, local people still follow the same tradition of placing money as offering for the help received from ancestral spirits. The paintings in this shelter are said to have made by the pygmies who painted the biggest and highest painting using ladders. 

Nyero shelter 3. Nyero shelter 3 is found 8 minutes’ walk in the far northern end of the inselberg from the main Nyero shelter 2. This shelter is formed of a large boulder perched on top of supporting rocks with no standing room,  this shelter’s paintings consist of white-colored concentric circles with the outer circles surrounded by double curved designs. The circles have double lines divided into smaller compartments and the painting symbol was adopted by the Uganda museum as their logo.

Nyero shelter 4. Nyero shelter 4 is a smaller shelter found on the south western side of the hill, the painting on rocks of this shelter has a few traces of red finger- painted concentric circles, two conical shapes, and lines.

Nyero shelter 5. Nyero shelter 5 is found on the western side of the hill, its rock paintings are made up of red geometric motif with a combination of circular and linear shapes made out of a brush and a finger. Due to natural water erosion part of the paintings have been damaged. 

Nyero shelter 6. Nyero shelter 6 is found on top of the hill providing a good view of the surrounding countryside, the rock consists of traces of red pigment forming two finger-printed outlines of small oval shapes and a slanting l-shaped with outlined cross with a small circle below it. The painted surface is slowly peeling off due to rain.

Nyero rock painting site can be accessed using a gravel road between Kumi and Ngora approximately 1 kilometer to the site. To tour the caves in the site you pay a reasonable entrance fee and guide fee, apart from cave touring one can also engage in hiking in this rock-filled site which is amazing to get in touch with nature. Uganda also hosts similar rock paintings in the areas of Kaberamaido, Karamoja, Pallisa and Dolwa Island in Lake Vitoria.

Nyero Rock Paintings
Nyero Rock Paintings

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