The Rock-Sculptures in Gunduk Cave: 2

From the Book:
The Rock-Sculptures in Gunduk Cave
Taufiq Wahby (1891-1984)
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It is to be noted that Layord who visited the cave before the age of photography, based his description on a drawing which he made directly from the reliefs Bachmann on the other hand, based his description and drawings on a photograph which he magnified with a projector on his return to Germany. His photograph, however, was taken from the right side of the bcs relief, a fact which resulted in hiding the figures on the right side of the relief and gave a somewhat distorted view of the rest of the lower figures. This in turn resulted not only in a somewhat faulty description of the lower group on Bachman's port but, as we believe, made him miss in his interpretation, the whole point of the lower group. Indeed Layard's description, though not entirely satisfactory, is comparatively more correct in our view than that of Bachmann.

The new set of photographs taken by the Iraq Department of Antiquities permits a more careful examination of the nature of the reliefs, and perhaps a more plausible interpretation. In the first group which may be seen in (Plate 3), two separate scenes are depicted, one above the other.

The upper register represents the figure of a hunter, and a wild goat transfixed by a spear. The attitude of the hunter in the upper scene represents the natural posture of a spearman who has just thrown a weapon from his right-hand, and balances his body with his left. It also gives a recognisable impression of on ibex with its curved horn, beard and other parts in fair proportions. The long spear or javelin is clearly shown thrust between the beast's shoulders. We are unable to find the quiver which Bachmann thought hang around the hunter. Nor do we think like Bachmann, that he carried a bow in his hand The white traces of what might give the impression of a bow are if anything the results of weathering.

In the lower register, a number of figures appear perhaps in the act of preparing and eating the meat of the ibex hunted above. On the right side, one observes two persons cutting the quarry into pieces: a man on the right, a woman on the left, and the game in between. Another woman, carrying a tall vessel made of unknown material on her head appears to be bringing the meat to those who are seated in the centre. This central group consists of two figures, a beardless man, seated on the right, and opposite him a woman. Between them, on a rock, which apparently serves as a table, there appears to be a child with its arm extended towards the man's mouth. Between the child and the woman there appear the remnants of a broken figure which might be a piece of the game but is probably another child. The woman's hand is extended as if she were feeding the second child. Behind the woman are two other persons approaching the seated figures. The first is a man carrying a large object, perhaps another child, and the second is a woman again carrying in her arms what might be a baby.

Comparing our account of the content of the bas-reliefs based on the new photographs with that of Bachmann, we arrive as some very definite differences. Bachmann having missed, through his faulty photography, to see the figures on the right cutting up the ibex, thought that this was being done by the central group of figures. The new photograph shows the central group to be a man and a woman seated on stools (the woman on the left is not standing as Bachmann shows her) with two of their children between them as Layard thought, all probably in the act of eating the meat brought from the right side. Further, the man to the left of the seated woman seems to be carrying a child and not a jar as Bachmann thought, while it is only logical to suppose that the woman with outstretched arms on the extreme left is carrying a baby. The whole first group of reliefs, there fire, tells a continuous story of o huntsman hunting a mountain goat, of the goat being cut to pieces and brought to the table in the centre around which the whole family assembles. It is apparent therefore that Bachmann missed the whole import of relief, by supposing that the animal was merely being cut up or that an offering was being made of it, thereby supposing the reliefs to be the centre of a cult. Nor do we believe him right in concluding that the scene was carved "in memory" of a hunt. We rather believe it to be, like similar cave paintings and carvings in southern Europe, carvings made for purposes of magic, whereby the huntsman or magician mimics the objects of his desire in order to be the better successful in the hunt and in providing food for the family.

As regards the date of the reliefs, Layard was undoubtedly not right in thinking them to be Assyrian Bachmann, while denying their being an Assyrion creation, is unwilling to commit himself as to their date beyond hinting that they might be of very remote antiquity.

It can however be asserted that the bas-reliefs give the impression of a milieu in which the art of agriculture was Still unknown or at least in its infancy, and domestic animals rare or non-existent. The people who carved the first group of bas-reliefs, therefore, represent an early stage of settlement at or near the cave people who hod not yet gone down to the valley to practice agriculture.

According to this theory, the mound near the village of Gunduk would probably belong to a later and more advanced stage of settlement, when the hunting dwellers living at or near the cave came down to the valley and began to live, at least partially at first, on agriculture.

I find it easy to assume that the two scenes just described may be taken as a clue to the mentality of the people living in this region at the time when they were carved. Here, as at all times in his early history, man felt that the satisfaction of his hunger was the foremost of all his necessities, and, living on those natural resources which he could most easily come by, such as herbs, roots, wild cereals, fruits and game, he devised magic and incantations to safeguard their abundance; magic, that is, of the sort in which the magician mimics and portrays the object of his desire, and incantations by which its realisation is invoked.

Examples of such portrayals are still preserved in the form of cave-paintings dating from the palaeolithic era. These magical arts, it was believed, ensured success in hunting, as “like produces like”, Primitive men and women would perform ceremonies, sing incantations and dance to the tune of the pipe, before the huntsmen went out to the chase. Man, from prehistoric times till now, has practised this kind of magic, despite the 'doctrines of religion and the enlightenment of education.

For example, the Kurds of to-day, when rain is delayed, not only recite the prayer for rain, which is a purely religious act, but also practise some kinds of magic rituals the root of which is steeped in the remote past.

The religious prayer is called “Nözha Bārāna” (The prayer for rain) which is from Arabic “SALĀT al-ISTISQA'”. This is performed usually outside the towns or villages; and in places where there are dervish quarters, the dervishes, and blackened faced dīvānas (ecstatic dervishes) go to the tomb of a great Pir in the district, and there, after praying the “Nözha Barana” they held a dhikr (invocation of God’s name) ceremony.

The dīvānas’ praying for rain with blackened faces is a sign of a confession of sin and shame, since it is believed that the stoppage of rain is God’s punishment for man's iniquities.

There are several kinds of magical rites for bringing down rain: An effigy is made in the form of a wooden cross, the perpendicular axis being longer than the horizontal. This is covered with a cloth, and a turban is placed on the top. It is called “Būka Bārānē” (The effigy of rain). A child holds one end, another the other end. Several other children accompany them shouting:

Hanārān manārān,
Ya Khwā, da y kāt a bārān,
Bo faqīr u hazhārān.

which means :

Hanārān manārān,
O God, that rain fall,
For the poor and wretched.


Yā khwā bārān bibārē
Sarqotina i bahārē.

which means:

O God, that rain fall,
The bare-headed of spring.

or, addressing the effigy itself:

Būka Bārānē,
āw y bindaghlānē,
Sahan i jārānē.

which means:

Effigy of rain,
(we want) Water beneath the crops.
The dish of the past days.

The children go from house to house dipping the effigy in the household water basin, if there is any; or the Lady of the house pours down a pail of water on the effigy. This kind of rite is very popular among the children, because the lady of the house has to give them some sweets as well.

In some places, people go to the door of the most notable family and knock; the door will not be opend to them, but water is poured down on them from the top of the house.

In the country, the people plunge a well-known pious man in the water basin.

In some places they also take a stone from the tomb of a tested pir and put it In a water basin. The stone is not removed from the basin and returned to the tomb until rain actually falls.

Even the ladies are not undifferent to such magic. A group of ladies put on their best cloths, and go on a picnic. Taking their provisions and kitchen utensils with them, they go to an old and sacred tree, where they spend their day dancing round the pot while it is cooking. After they take their meal, they pour water on the best dressed women among them, and wait for the rain to foil. I f by the time they are ready to go home the rain has not come, they pour water on one another and go home oil wet.

In some places, for instance in Kirkuk, the ladies make that picnic in the street, under a spout which is fixed on the edge of a roof. After giving cooked meal to the poor, water is poured down through the spout to wet the ladies in the street.

There are other kinds of rites such as placing a man's skull in the water, burning a dead donkey's head and pouring water on its ashes; and cattle fighting, etc. etc.

In the town of Mosul the children, performing their traditional rites, shout thus:—

Umm al-Ghaith ghīthīna,
Lola'l-maṭar ma jīna,
Huṭṭu l'na bi'l-ṭabshī,
Ṣabbaḥ waladkum yamshī,

which means:

Mother of rain, grant us rain,
If it were not for rain, we would not come,
Put it in the vessel for us,
So that your child may walk.

Thus, they beg water, which is poured on the effigy, and some sweets are given to them by the lady of the house.

I wonder, does the lady of the house represent the goddess of fertility or Ishtar and the son of the house, the god of the crop Tammuz, the son of the goddess of fertility.

All these magical baptisms are traditional and have come down from immemorial times. The idea behind them is to wet a man, or somehow representing him so that rain may fall.

Among the Kurds, there is also an exactly contrary magic ritual, the idea of which is to stop the rain when its continuation has become injurious. This ritual consists in registering the names of forty scaldheads on a piece of paper which is hung on a tree, such persons being by some obscure symbolism associated with cloudless weather. It is enough sometimes to make a scaldhead stand in the rain.

Concluding our remarks about the two scenes of the first group of carvings we may say that the principal necessity of man was, and still is as already indicated, to satisfy his own hunger, and when that is achieved, reproduction and feeding the family are his primary needs. In the two scenes we have considered both these principal requirements are clearly demonstrated; namely hunting for food and forming and feeding a family. In the upper scene the man is successful in the hunt, and in the lower scene all the members of the formed family group satisfying their hunger.