ENNENDI PLATEAU, CHAD – a UNESCO World Heritage Site deep in the Sahara desert has been all but destroyed by graffiti. Chad’s minister of culture, Mahamat Saleh Haroun, said the act was “a tragedy… offensive to the whole history and memory of Chad.”
These paintings represent a wealth of history, pictures of a time before the Sahara was a desert. The vandals, whom Haroun believes to be local youths, scrawled their names over the top of the ancient rock art in French and Arabic.
“It’s an African story and they wanted to destroy that,” Mahamat Saleh Haroun said in an interview. “That’s why I’m talking about a tragedy, because it’s a part of us.”
The damage might be reversible, Abdelkerim Adoum Bahar, the head of the UN’s cultural body in Chad, pointed out. Hopefully it is. The rock art already undergoes severe stress from erosion and sun damage in the blistering Sahara. If this art is lost to graffiti, it would be a horrific blow to the archaeological record. The Ennedi Plateau, made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, features thousands of images of people and animals, carved and painted into caves, canyons, and prehistoric shelters that dot the surrounding area.
A team has been sent to north-eastern Chad to see just how bad the damage is. Later, experts will follow-up on their work. Until then, we won’t know whether or not these paintings have been marred forever.
“This is a part of our memory. It helps us to understand who we are… We cannot destroy it. If you don’t know your past you cannot deal with the present.” – Mahamat Saleh Haroun.