Tchitundu-Hulu is the generic name for a group of four rock art sites located in the Namibe province on the south-west corner of Angola, by the edge of the Namib desert, about 120 km from the sea. It is a semi-arid plain characterized by the presence of several inselbergs (isolated hills rising from the plain), the most important of which is Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume. The group of rock art sites are surrounded by several seasonal rivers, within a maximum distance of 1 km. Tchitundu-Hulu was first documented by José Camarate Andrade França in 1953, and since then it has become one of the most studied rock art sites in Angola, attracting the interest of renowned researchers such as Abbé Breuil, J. Desmond Clark and Santos Junior. In 2014 one of the sites was the subject of a Masters dissertation (Caema 2014), the latest addition to the long term research on the site.
As aforementioned, Tchitundu-Hulu comprises four rock art sites : Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume, Tchitundu-Hulu Mucai, Pedra das Zebras and Pedra da Lagoa. The first two combine paintings and engravings, while the latter only have engravings. Pedra das Zebras and Pedra da Lagoa are Portuguese names which can be translated as the Rock of the Zebras and the Rock of the Pond, but the name of Tchitundu-Hulu has different interpretations in the local languages –the hill of heaven, the hill of the souls or the sacred hill- while Mulume and Mucai are translated as man and woman, respectively. Therefore, the local names of the site point to a deep meaning within the communities that inhabited the region.
Of the four sites, Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume is the largest , located at the top of the inselberg, 726 m in height. The slopes of the outcrop are covered by large engravings, most of them consisting of circle-like shapes (simple or concentric circles, solar-like images), although some depictions of human figures or animals are also present. On a shelter on the top of the outcrop more than 180 images can be found painted in red or white, with geometric shapes being again widely predominant. The depictions have abundant superimpositions and cover the walls, roof and base of the shelter.
In comparison, Tchitundu-Hulu Mucai is situated on the plain around 1,000 m from the inselberg, in a rock outcrop containing engravings on the top and a shelter at its base covered by painted rock art. The characteristics of both engravings and paintings are similar to those of Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume, although some black figures are present, too. Paintings often combine two, three or even more colours, and consist mainly of geometric signs, although there are anthropomorphs and zoomorphs, in some cases grouped in what seem hunting scenes. The other two sites (the Rock of the Zebras and the Rock of the Pond) consist of engravings similar to those of Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume, and in some cases their different patinas show that they were made in different periods.
The chronology of the Tchitundu-Hulu rock art is difficult to establish, and it is unclear if the four sites are of the same period at all. Theories based on the lithic tools dispersed throughout the area ascribed the paintings to an ancient time period, possibly tens of thousands of years old. Radiocarbon samples coming from the excavation of Tchitundu-Hulu Mulume showed a date in the early 1st millennium BC, although the relation of the archaeological remains and the paintings has not been proved and archaeological materials of a more modern period were also located. A sample taken from the pigments at the site rendered a date of the beginning of the first centuries of the 1st millennium AD. In any case, Tchitundu-Hulu hosts some of the oldest examples of rock art in the country, and it has been linked to the schematic traditions that characterize the rock art of Central Africa, more abundant in central Mozambique and Malawi.
The question of who made the engravings or paintings is another complex issue for the interpretation of the Tchitundu-Hulu depictions. The harsh conditions of this semi-desert area probably favoured a seasonal occupation of the region during the rainy season. The location of Tchitundu-Hulu at the edge of the desert could also have made this place a strategic site for the communities living in the region. Several local groups - Kwisi, Kuvale - have traditionally inhabited the area, but the authorship of these engravings and paintings and the motives for creating them remains obscure, as does the purpose and cultural context of the complex images of Tchitundu-Hulu.