Africa Thesis Award 2005

Leslie Zubieta

The jury of the ASC Master's Thesis Award has decided to present the 2005 ASC-CODESRIA Master's Thesis Award to Ms. Leslie Francis Zubieta Calvert for her thesis "The Rock Art of Mwana wa Chentcherere II Rock Shelter, Malaŵi: A Site-Specific Study of Girl's Initiation Rock Art".

Full text of thesis

Leslie Francis Zubieta Calvert’s thesis on Rock Art in Malawi offers an insight into the meaning of rock art in the life of the people who lived in the Mwana wa Chentcherere area for a long time. The thesis describes in great detail the rock paintings at this specific site in Malawi that bear testimony to the different societies that have inhabited this region in the past and whose cultures are still relevant for the understanding of present-day social and ritual life. This made her decide to enrich the existing archaeological interpretation of these rock paintings by turning to a study of girls' initiation rituals and their symbolic objects so as to include ethnographic evidence in her analysis of this art. Until recently, Mwana wa Chentcherere was also a site for the performance of these ceremonies and the researcher collected detailed information about the objects and figures that are used during the ritual performances, which show a marked resemblance with the rock paintings. In so doing, the author went beyond existing archaeological interpretation, which by including historical data and ethnographic information provides for a new and original dimension in the understanding of the paintings. She takes her place in a long tradition of writing about this rock art and the peoples in the area, and has found a way of making this study become relevant for the understanding of women's identities and gender in present-day Malawi. The thesis adds to the debate on identity in Malawi, a country which, belonging to the ten poorest in the world, is in search of cultural riches which it also finds in its pre-colonial and even pre-historic past.

The reasons that made the Jury decide to present the 2005 ASC-CODESRIA Master’s Award to Leslie Francis Zubieta Calvert are the following:

  • The author combines in a concise way several disciplines, i.e. ethnography, social history, gender studies and archaeology.
  • Her arguments are convincing.
  • She has succeeded in gaining entry to local women’s initiation ceremonies and living memory, which has never before been included in an interpretative framework of the rock art by the researcher's male predecessors.
  • The thesis is a mature, colourful piece of work and a pleasure to read.
  • The thesis makes an important contribution to the study of African history.

In conclusion, the Jury of the ASC-CODESRIA Master’s Thesis Award felt that Leslie Francis Zubieta Calvert’s Master’s Thesis The Rock Art of Mwana wa Chentcherere II Rock Shelter, Malaŵi represented a rich and original piece of work. It is, therefore, very pleased to be able to present her with the 2005 ASC-CODESRIA Master’s Thesis Award.

Jos van Beurden
Chairman of the Jury

Full Jury's report (pdf, 15KB)