Baboons in Ancient Egyptian art : the significance of the baboon motif in the funerary art of the New Kingdom

Pio, Helena (2018-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The New Kingdom of Egypt represented a period of imperial successes when Egypt became a world power. The country enjoyed political stability under Dynasty XVIII – XX and actively participated in international affairs. They undertook trade expeditions to Kush and Punt to obtain resources and exotic ware, amongst which counted foreign animals, including baboons (Papio hamadryas), which by this time, were not indigenous anymore. Egyptians were known to live in harmony with nature, deeply aware of their dependence on cyclical regeneration as perceived in the daily return of the sun and the life-sustaining annual inundation of the Nile. These events ensured that earthly life could continue in a relatively harsh environment. Egyptians were naturally inclined to view opposites as complementary; just as their country was made up of the fertile Nile valley and the barren sand deserts, the terrestrial and celestial were parts of the same continuum. The natural world could provide clues to the supernatural; by closely observing the behaviour of animals, identifying characteristics similar to, and differing from those of humans, they developed a mythical construct to explain the nature of the cosmos. Baboons intrigued the Egyptians; they were uncannily similar to humans, yet also difficult to fathom; jubilant, pensive, fierce and with a noticeable sexuality, the behaviour of these animals offered a wide scope for portraying attributes of the divine as well as aspirations harboured by humans. They symbolised true veneration by chattering in a secret language while welcoming the sun at dawn, their contemplative staring showed an ancient wisdom and justness, they viciously protected their domain and their virility signified the creative force of life. These concepts were all important in the Egyptian quest for both earthly and eternal life; praising the deities could induce them to be just and wise in dealing with humanity and ensure protection and procreation. Egyptians lived in preparation for life hereafter and viewed the tomb as a very important station that had to be adequately equipped to sustain and protect the body and ‘soul’ of the deceased in the underworld. This was achieved by developing a complex symbolically laden decoration program for the burial chamber, the coffin, the canopic jars and other funerary goods. It is in this private sphere of the Egyptian tomb that the baboon motif persistently features to promote the well-being of the deceased by symbolising piety, justice, protection and regeneration.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Egipte het in die Nuwe Ryk ‘n wêreldmag geword en hierdie periode is gekenmerk deur politieke stabiliteit en ekonomiese vooruitgang. Onder die sentrale regering van Dinastieë XVIII – XX, kon Egipte nou sy regmatige rol in die internasionale gemeenskap inneem. Hulle het uitgebreide handelsekspedisies ter see na Kus en Punt onderneem waarvandaan hulle ondermeer eksotiese dierespesies soos bobbejane (Papio hamadryas), ingevoer het. Bobbejane was heel moontlik vroeër inheems aan Egipte, maar ten tye van die Nuwe Ryk het hulle reeds uitgesterf. Die Egiptenare het in simbiose met die natuur geleef, deeglik bewus van hulle afhanklikheid van sikliese herlewing, want sonder die voorspelbaarheid van die son se gang en die jaarlikse Nylvloed was oorlewing in díe ongenaakbare biosisteem nie gewaarborg nie. Die teenstrydighede wat die land se geografie kenmerk, soos die vrugbare Nylvallei teenoor die sandwoestyne, was vir die Egiptenare verskillende punte op dieselfde skaal. So het hulle ook die aardse en die bo-natuurlike as komplementerend beleef; die sigbare kon lig werp op die onsigbare. In hulle poging om sin te maak van die lewe, het hulle het die diereryk fyn bestudeer en op grond van eienskappe wat ooreenkom en wat verskil van dié van mense, ‘n mitologiese uitleg van die heelal geskep. Bobbejane het veral aandag getrek omdat hulle baie in gemeen het met mense en tog ook steeds in misterie gehul is. Hulle optrede, wat wissel van ekstaties tot peinsend, vertoon ook veglustig en viriel; al hierdie aspekte kon die Egiptenare simbolies in verband met karaktertrekke van mense en gode bring. As die bobbejane met sonsopkoms brabbel, was hulle eintlik besig om die songod in ‘n geheime taal te loof. As hulle sit en staar, is dit omdat hulle wys en regverdig is. Hulle veg omdat hulle belange beskerm en hulle viriliteit verseker hulle voortbestaan. Hierdie begrippe was fundamenteel vir die Egiptiese soeke na ewige lewe: deur die gode te prys, verbeter die kans dat hulle wys en regverdig teenoor die mensdom sal optree en beskerming en viriliteit verseker veiligheid en voortbestaan. Juis omdat die ewige lewe die Egiptenare se hoofdoel was, het hulle die graf as ‘n baie belangrike struktuur beskou wat so ingerig moet word dat dit die voortbestaan van die liggaam en ‘siel’ van die oorledene in die hiernamaals sal waarborg. Daarom is die graftombe, die kis, die kanopiese houers en ander grafgoedere met ‘n ingewikkelde simboliek-gelaaide dekoratiewe program versier. Dit is in hierdie privaat area van die Egiptiese graf waar die bobbejaanmotief deurlopend ‘n rol speel om deur middel van die simboliese voorstelling van godsdienstigheid, wysheid, regverdigheid, beskerming en viriliteit, die welstand van die oorledene te bevorder.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103342
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