Searching for Ancient Cave Art, Tanzania

Kolo. Kondoa. Dodoma.

Tanzania. Africa.

This is the story of humanity. Not the science, not the religion, not the history – the story. Root and fat ground onto rock and laid down for once and for all time. The earliest kind of tale-weaving; no frills, no philosophy, no perfectly-edited manuscripts or gilded frames. Just art at its purest, its simplest; a record of man’s first steps of re-ordering the world around him, painted on bare cave walls with fingerprint and twig. Raw life and raw existence.

Still it lives, hidden from the elements – largely hidden from the modern world, its progress and its machines. Deep, in the Bush, this kind of Africa still lives, where children run barefoot in the dust to the pounding of stone and millet, where the voices of ancestors still echo across the sunburnt hills, where the red sun hums like a glowing ember behind the billowing grey choke of campfires, blades are sharpened each morning to the tremble of the dawn chorus, arrowheads are delicately rolled in poisonous weeds by thick cracked hands, and grounded bark and pollens remain the cure-all for every disease and ailment. Here, fading gently with time, the cradle of mankind’s legacy on earth waits, waits for hungry passengers of the cosmic drama to dine on its forgotten nectars and deliver its message to a world bereft of a spirit…

How, I ask, am I supposed to do such places, times and experiences justice? A question I increasingly ask myself when faced with such bounty of film to edit from the wildest and culturally richest places on earth. I wait for the feeling to rise within me; like a voice, not spoken but felt, like the kindling of a fire. ‘Now it’s time’. Africa beats her primeval drum and my fingers answer its calling.

I’ve never professed to be anything more than a student. And God knows I am still learning. The lessons seem to be getting harder. But that is perhaps a good sign… Not that long ago I was living in Tanzania for a few months, visiting and staying with indigenous tribes, local families, deep in the wildest places away from most comforts and familiarity. I was sharing my life with local people who shared their life and their homes with me, from the poor to the poorer. Not every moment was a dream, nor every scene worthy of a movie, yet many days I couldn’t believe my eyes or fathom that what I was experiencing around me was even real. Often I was waiting for the ‘and cut’ moment, as if I were constantly on film sets with actors who didn’t really live this way…

But it isn’t hard to live authentically in Africa. The earth retains current. Tumults and tides have lapped against those shores; passed, failed. New eras rise up, calendars change. Some here still listen to the voice of the moon and the glimmer of stars.

Africa stole my heart long ago, and now, she became my refuge from a storm.

I spoke to my dear friend Joseph, with whom I spent a lot of time exploring. He is one of those people who just seems to know something about everything in this land, just enough to ignite the trail. I mentioned to him I had heard the wind tell of some caves, not too far from where we were staying, which preserve ancient artworks of the local tribes in Kondoa-Kolo area of Tanzania. So we made the journey on public transport together (an experience…), stopped off in a local ‘hotel’ and found a local guide who was willing to take us into the Bush, where he promised he could find some of the caves. The hike wasn’t too long and the intermittent rains provided welcomed relief from the heat. I spotted a Green Mamba slithering off into the undergrowth as we passed by like crusaders marching towards the Holy Land. Wildlife encounters of course become quite the norm after some time in Africa.

As we came to the first cave I felt that familiar ‘hum’ I feel when approaching some kind of shrine or sacred site. But it was a little different here… while a tomb of a holy person can be charged with a special energy (a ‘hyperreal’ pinpoint in time where the veil between realms is mocked, thinned out) I felt the caves held a specific energy, like a memory or vessel from another world, a way of life very much alive and yet somehow dying…

The usual awe flooded my senses, my nose, my eyes; my ears ringing with silence. Panting and sweating from the climb through jungle, everything just seemed to stop here. Once again, I become nothing more than a witness to Life. And what life !


How would you feel standing before such a site? What can ancient rock art teach the modern world? I would love to hear your thoughts.

I have many more stories to tell from my life in Africa, and I hope I get the chance. These tales don’t always like to be told somehow… not until the proper time at least. That’s how it feels to me anyway… I have a peculiar character I suppose.


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If you enjoyed the story, the pictures and film and would like to see more then please comment, like, subscribe, share among friends and catch my profiles on social media. I am looking forward to sharing a whole lot more with you! I pray you are all well and keeping your hearts aloft.

If you are reading this and desire to go to Tanzania please write to me for any advice, I can be found always at diary.aesthete@yahoo.co.uk also on my Instagram profiles @james.dee.clayton and @diary_aesthete and of course I always make time to respond to messages on this website. My good friend Jospeh Ndeti is a trusted guide from Arusha, Tanzania and can organise any safaris and trips for you, for all budgets and dreams, and he is a really wonderful man too! He is not affiliated with any business or company, he is just a humble man who loves to work with open-minded travellers, and wants to support his family. I’d be happy to connect you if you like 🙂
God bless you always. May the Light illumine your path and transform your mind.
Blessed be. Jx

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22 Comments

  1. Welcome back here my spiritual friend, James. I am actually running out of words how to describe this journey of Yours. I can only juggle a few words like, authenticity, admiration, holiness and bowing down to this history of art and expression, …. As you can sense that it is hard to find the right words. It very much much reminds me of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics I have seen in Egypt. I feel blessed to have been part of your mind blowing journey in this part of the world. Thank you ever so much for sharing your talent and observations. Greetings to you from the other side of the wide globe, Cornelia

    1. Hello dear Cornelia. I am always so happy to read your comments. It is a blessing to share such things and for people to connect with my tales. It makes it all worth the while 🙂 And yes I totally understand your comparison to hieroglyphs! I am looking forward to writing about those lands myself someday soon… Blessings to you !

  2. Beautiful. I once visited a similar place in Kenya. I’m a local but even I didn’t realize such undocumented places existed.

  3. You’re a beautiful man with a beautiful soul James, and I love your posts. You are always so humble, respectful and reverential toward the people you meet and spend time with. Thank you for sharing your experiences and love for these people, their lands and customs.

    1. Thank you… I hope to be all those things you say. I am always so in awe of people I encounter, and open to their way of life. I try to observe and learn… we have so much to remember. Thank you for your words !

  4. This is incredible. You are profoundly talented at painting a clear and beautiful picture with your words. The photos following the text were exactly what I’d expect them to be.

    Thank you.

  5. “I’ve never professed to be anything more than a student.” This is my truth as well. With thoughtful well chosen words you paint the perfect picture for me to enter into that learning. Learning about myself, my fellows (both past and present), and the world at large.

  6. It is a gift to read your words. Your thoughts and descriptions are so compelling and heartfelt. I know what you mean about special places. I felt that once at a sacred site in New Mexico. The rock wall was covered in ancient paintings. The veil seemed thin. Thank you.

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