Somaliland: Oh Laas Geel! Laas Geel!, What Has Thy Done to Thee?

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Some of the paintings before and now as pointed by Muse“At this rate of deterioration there will be no paintings left in two years if nothing is done and done urgently” Guide Muse

By: Yusuf M Hasan

LAAS GEEL (Somalilandsun) – The country is on the verge of losing its main historic and touristic site due to neglect.

The Rock paintings at Laas Geel are about to become a thing of the past, as dust gradually continues to destroy the 4000 years old rock art.

According to chief site guide Muse Abdi Jama the once clear pictures on the rocks are fading on a daily basis as a result of wind propelled dust that has ensued with a strong dark coat on top of the paintings.

A visible sad guide Muse who was briefing the Somalilandsun during a visit to the site said that regular appeals for action have remained answered while the rock paintings that have stood similar or more excessive wSingaporean Tourists enjoy the fading spectacle of Laas Geeleather for over 4000 years fade from sight.

“At this rate of deterioration there will be no paintings left in two years if nothing is done and done urgently” Guide Muse

The Laas Geel cave paintings thought to be some of the best preserved in Africa. Depict cows in ceremonial robes accompanied by humans, who are believed to have been inhabitants of the region. The necks of the cows are embellished with a kind of plastron. Some of the cows are also portrayed wearing decorative robes. Besides long-horned cattle, the rock art also shows an image of a domesticated dog, several paintings of canidae as well as a giraffe.

Puts a coat

This rock paintings that become world renowned rock attracted 656 visitors last year (2011) most of them foreigners from Europe, Americas and to a minor extend the middle among other areas. Despite the popularity of the rock paintings with foreigners, locals are yet to adapt the site as touristic destination.

Considering that each visitor to the site is charged a mandatory $25 payable at the Department of Tourism in Hargeisa, the site amassed $16400 in revenue to the central coffers. According to sources this figure is minimal compared to other years when visitors are in the thousands.

Queried on what should be done to thus halt the deterioration as well as maintain the paintings in their original pre-organized religion era status, public officials responsible had these to say:Assortment of rock art at Laas Geel

• Put facades in front of the caves in order to capture all wind induced dust from reaching the paintings- Musa Abdi ‘Guide’

• Close the site to visitors for a year while experts study and implement preventive measures-Mohamed Abdi ‘Chief Archeologist

• Force the French team to effect maintainances since they are respcultures meet at laas geel glenda from australia and amaryonsible for all technical aspects at the rock paintings- Nagib Shunuf ‘Consultant Archeologist

The measures suggested by these officials who are experts in their fields could be effected the historic rock paintings would be preserved for future generations of Somalilanders and others from the world to enjoy.

In view of ascertaining the cost of affecting the remedy suggested by guide Muse Abdi, The Somalilandsun consulted a local contract who estimated a cost not more than $8,000.

If this remedy which is the least cumbersome costs $8000 then the tourism department can easily afford putting the measures in place if the 2011 figure of $16400 is anything to go by.

At the same time it is worth to mention that this year’s visitors have already surpassed those of 2011 even before the year is ended.

Having established that the cost of protecting the rock paintings is not the issue then what is?

According to area residents the authorities have neglected the site in the two years of the current administration which they acclaimed for implementing several beneficial projects not only in their Darburuq town but country at-large.

“If the government turns its attention to Laas Geel then the situation will be changed for the better and in a very short time” Elder Hussein Abdilahi.

The guides at the site, who informed that within the last two years Dorothy Ng takes a photo as she ponders the majesty of Laas Geelof this administration only one cabinet minister has visited the site with his family, said that during the Rayale Administration ministerial and top servants visits were a weekly activity.

While issues detailed above relate to internal Somaliland affairs it is imperative that we sample the French Archeological team that claims credit to the sites discovery.

Every time I hear this statement I always remembered a song by Burning Spear a Jamaican Reggae singer who laments about the Caribbean’s discovery by Christopher Columbus

“Columbus is a liar & a liar” Where were the Arawak Indians when he made the discovery”

If you Google Laas Geel this is what you will find about the sites discovery

“During November and December 2002, an archaeological survey was carried out in northern Somalia by a French team of researchers. The expedition’s objective was to search for rock shelters and caves containing stratified archaeological infill’s capable of documenting the period when production economy appeared in this part of the Horn of Africa (circa 5,000 and 2,000 BCE). During the course of the survey, the French archaeological team discovered the Laas Geel cave paintings, encompassing an area of ten rock alcoves (caves). In an excellent state of preservation, the paintings show ancient humans of the area raising their hands and worshipping humpless cows with large lyre-shaped horns.

The rock art had been known to the area’s inhabitants for centuries before the French discovery. However, the existence of the site had not been broadcast to the international community. In November 2003, a mission returned to Laas Geel and a team of experts undertook a detailed study of the paintings and their prehistoric context.

Northern Somalia in general is home to numerous such archaeological sites, with similar rock art and/or ancient edifices found at Haylaan, Qa’ableh, Qombo’ul and Elaayo. However, many of these old structures have yet to be properly explored, a process which would help shed further light on local history and facilitate their preservation for posterity”

Now to the facts the rock paintings that have been known to the residents for centuries were brought to the attention of the French Team by Mohamed Abdi and Muse Abdi Jama. The French were then in the country studying ancient graves for reasons only known to them.

During this period this writer who was the director of planning at the then Ministry of tourism and Culture also acted for three years as the administrative assistant to the French Somaliland Archeological mission.

The French team that has now sole rights to all the country’s discovered and undiscovered archeological and pre-historical sites is led by Prof. Xavier Gutierrez of St Paul Valery university in Montpelier France who has become a multi-millionaire from amounts accrued from Laas Geel.

The good Prof constantly returns to the site on annual basis since 2002 for never ending studies is also adept at varying his team composition on an annual basis thus deter any from getting an actual grasp of the massive theft of artefacts and rights that accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions.

It is worth informing that the country does not also own any photographic rights to the site and any other to be discovered since the good Prof in Cahoots with then Minister of tourism the late Osman Abdi Bile sold the rights to Gamma Photo Agency of France during the 2005/6 mission.

Am privy to this information since I drafted the initial contract which stipulated that the Gamma Photo Agency owns sole photographic rights to Laas Geel, other discovered and yet to be discovered archaeology sites in the country.

In return Gamma was to pay an annual figure of $60,000 to the central coffers through ministry of Finance and an additional monthly payment of $3,000 to the ministry of Tourism and Culture, which was to be used for ministerial development and site guard payment.

This contract in which the last minister Bile and Gamma Science editor affixed their signatures never took effect because a separate deal was affected with the Photo Agency paying less than $1000. Though I was both the ministry’s planning officer as well as the administrative assistant to the Franco/Sl archaeological mission the powers that be barred me from any contact with the French team until a couple of months later.

With this said it is now upon the authorities to see to it that a new contract is entered with by Prof. Xavier Gutierrez and his St Paul Valery university in order to ensure that the country benefits from its heritage as well as acquire the expertise to protect them.

At the same time the administration needs to investigate the issue of $159,000 that the former French Premier Dominique de Villepin paid through the French embassy in Djibouti for the compound erection at the underground city of Fardowsa in Sheikh District.

Though this article is about the destruction ongoing at Laas Geel is the issue and not blunders by the honourable French Prof the government needs to act and act now.

Prehistoric Somaliland

The region that today encompasses Somaliland was home to the earliest civilization in Somalia. The most salient feature of this ancient civilization is thought to be the Laas Geel Neolithic cave paintings, which are among the oldest such rock art in Africa. These cave paintings are located in a site outside Hargeisa, the capital of the Somaliland region, and were untouched and intact for nearly 10,000 years until their recent discovery. The paintings show an indigenous people worshiping cattle. There are also paintings of giraffes, domesticated canines and wild antelopes, with images of cows wearing ceremonial robes while next to them are some of these people prostrating in front of the cattle. The Las Geel caves and their paintings have become a major tourist attraction and a national treasure.

Laas Geel is a complex of caves and rock shelters in Somaliland that is famous for its cave paintings. The caves are located in a rural area on the outskirts of Hargeisa, and contain some of the earliest known rock art in the Horn of Africa and the African continent in general. Laas Geel’s cave paintings are estimated to date back to somewhere between 9,000–8,000 and 3,000 BCE.

Introduction

The Laas Geel site contains granite caves sheltering about ten rock alcoves decorated with Neolithic cave paintings. The caves are located outside Hargeisa, in an area encompassing a nomadic village, the Nasa Hablood hills. The site overlooks a wide district of countryside, where nomads graze their livestock and wild antelopes roam the vast landscape.

The local nomads used the caves as a shelter when it rained and never paid much attention to the paintings. The site is now guarded by the local villagers.

Discovery

According to ministry records the Laas-Geel site and many others in the country were discovered by Mr. Mohamed Abdi who is a senior archeologist with the government of Somaliland. Another ancient site credited to Mohamed Abdi is the ancient underground Fardowsa city in Sheikh Town.

Description

The cave paintings are thought to be some of the best preserved in Africa. The paintings represent cows in ceremonial robes accompanied by stocky humans (believed to be inhabitants of the region). The necks of the cows are embellished with a kind of plastron; some of the cows are even wearing decorative robes. The paintings not only show cows, there are also an image of a domesticated dog, several paintings of canidae and even a giraffe.

Miscellaneous

The paintings are well preserved; even with the history of Somalia wars, natural weathering, animals and other factors, the paintings have survived intact and retain their clear outlines and vibrant colours.

There has been little international publicity of the Laas Geel cave paintings and the paintings have been threatened by people coming to the caves for recreational purposes. The paintings are now part of the future tourist attractions in the area once Somaliland becomes internationally recognized as a sovereign nation.

Simon Reeve visited the cave paintings as part of his television programme Places That Don’t Exist. Amazed at the excellent preservation and vibrant colours of the paintings, he said that “Laas Geel, it transpires, is probably the most significant Neolithic rock painting site in the whole of Africa” and that “few people know that Somaliland is home to such treasures.” The former minister of Tourism & Culture Late Osman Bile Ali, who showed Reeve the site, described the Laas Geel cave paintings as beautiful

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