Before the French archaeologists found the cave paintings, local belief held that spirits lived in the Laas Gaal caves. In a nearby village, I met 75-year-old Moussa Abdi Jamac, who’s lived in the area since 1969. He told me an old religious chief, Sheikh H. Juma Buh, warned villagers that the spirits didn’t know humans were living close by, and that it was best not to linger in the caves.
Another local told me people living near the caves sacrificed goats in an attempt to pacify the spirits. Today, some villagers continue to believe the Laas Gaal caves are sacred.
The Laas Gaal cave complex lies beneath this rocky outcrop. Photo by Mohamed Amin Jibril.
There are eight caves altogether. The first is home to the largest number of paintings and is considered the artistic and creative centre of the complex. The second cave is the biggest, and it looks like it may have been used as a meeting room. [Editor’s note: some experts think painted caves in Somaliland could have been meeting points for farmer and herders].
In the third cave, there is a large flat stone which makes you think of a king’s throne. Another cave is partitioned off into smaller spaces with little openings like windows. Prisoners could have been kept here. The rest of the caves look like living quarters.
When you enter the first cave, you see a stunning painting of a cow decorated with what looks like traditional fabrics. Next to the cow, there are paintings of stocky-looking men. The cows have a kind of decorative necklace on their chests. It’s really beautiful. Other animals also appear in the artwork, but these are more rare. [Editor’s note: some paintings show wild animals like jackals, monkeys, elephants, and giraffes].
In the past, no one went to this place. But it’s become the main tourist attraction in Somaliland. An employee at Laas Gaal told me that at first there were only 250 to 300 visitors per year but now there are roughly 30 each week. And according to the Ministry of Tourism, more than 1,000 tourists visited in 2012, double the number of the year before.