|Makonde ancestor figure with raised arms - Mozambique
|Makonde figure with raised arms
Beautiful old Carved Kneeling Figure Adorned with human hair, beads, mango seeds, cloth and animal tail hair
Collected in Tanzania but probably from across the border in Mozambique
Acquired from Sidewalk Tribal Gallery, Australia
The art of the Makonde people is a new area for me and it is an area that has very little written about it.
Among the few East African peoples who made sculptures in any quantity, the Makonde are notable for their unusually naturalistic figures.
Women are central to Makonde society and sculpted figures are kept on altars or carried by travelers.
"The precolonial Makonde lived in dispersed settlements. Each settlement was composed of a small number of households headed by men
belonging to a matrilineal kinship unit called a likola. A likola was said to derive from a common female ancestor, revered as a life-giver and
protector, who was represented by figurines only a few inches tall. Carved from soft wood, the images were embellished with traditional
body decoration: the face and torso had geometrical designs, and the upper lip exhibited the lip-plug worn by Makonde women of the time.
People often carried such carvings with them on long journeys. For example, a man going out to hunt might have tied one to his back or hip
to protect him from danger. Other carvings served educational purposes. One of the most important events in the life of a Makonde was
initiation. During this intensive months-long ritual, girls and boys were provided with knowledge and skills essential to the Makonde way of
life. Carvings sometimes functioned as teaching tools in the context.
The Makonde are almost the only ethnicity in East Africa to create fairly naturalistic sculptures – primarily maternity figures, which are
intended to ensure the fertility of the fields and women. The upper lip of the female figurine is often elongated by a labret. The standing
figures often have the arms separated from the body. These male and female figures represent ancestors, and have apotropaic (ward off
evil) functions." (zyama)
I've been doing a LOT of research on the Makonde and their art and culture and just haven't had the time to do a write up on this page but
I plan to do one soon. Resource material on the Makonde is very limited and it doesn't talk about sculpture that much, it mainly focuses on
the masking traditions. The Makonde are a fascinating culture and I find them very interesting and I look forward to putting some additional
information on this page as I have time.