Makonde maternity figure - Mozambique
Makonde maternity figure
25 x 8 3/4 x 7 inches
The thing that really drew me to this piece was the pose of the child being held by the mother.

"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 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.
Rand African Art main page

Makonde main page

Maternity figures main page
Initiated Makonde woman wearing earring,
necklace and lip-plug in her upper lip. The
photo was taken during the German
occupation of East Africa as Deutsch
Ostafrika (1885-1918).

Credit: photo from the Frankfurt University
Photographic Archive (image reference
019-0502-18).
Makonde aesthetics

The mother represented in the figure above is depicted wearing a lip plug (ndonya)

CLICK HERE to go to the website of Lars Ktutak that talks about the Makonde facial and body scarifications.
"Dinembo: Tribal Tattoos of the Makonde by Lars Krutak"
Makonde women with ndona (labret), forehead,  chin, cheek,
and sternum tattoos. The labret is  made of black ebony with an
upright needle passing close to the nose, a sign that the girl is
of marriageable age.
Photograph ca. 1960.
Two Makonde women & one with elaborate
back tattooing comprised of palm frond
motifs, ca. 1930.
Postcard from the collection of Lars Krutak.
Above and below
Spanning the facial area above the mouth and across the cheeks
and nose, lichumba ("deep angles") mark nearly all tattooed
Makonde men and women. Lichumba are almost as common as
the woman’s ndona, or upper lip labret. Photographs ca. 1960.
Makonde woman
Photo by:
Ronald de Hommel
The cover of the book
Makonde - by John Stone
Makonde - by John Stone


A survey of the society, economy and art of the Makonde of
southeast Tanzania and northeast Mozambique. Richly
illustrated with colour photographs. Includes a guide to further
reading and a glossary. Index, map, 64pp, USA. ROSEN
PUBLISHING COMPANY, 082392016X

1998 Hardback

Available from the
Africa Book Centre On-Line catalog
This is the image from the front of the cover of the book Makonde by John Stone
I love this image!



The Makonde creation myth

The Makonde creation myth comes in many different variations, but they all contain the same basic story.

The Makonde creation myth contains an element of magic to help explain why the Makonde chose to live on the plateau.
According to the main version of the story, a man came out of the thick bush. The man was unwashed and unshaven; he did not eat or drink very much.
One day, he carved a human figure from wood and set it upright in the bush. During the night the image came to life and became a woman. The woman
became the man's wife. Together, the couple washed for the first time in the Ruvuma River.

On the bank of the river, the woman delivered a stillborn child. They traveled a little farther, where the woman delivered another stillborn child. Finally, they
traveled to the plateau, where the woman gave birth to a third child, that child survived. Over time, the couple had many other children on the plateau.
These children became the first ancestors of the Makonde.

The father ordered his descendants to bury anyone who died in an upright position in memory of his wife. She had come alive when the wooden figure of
her was set upright, and she had become the mother of all the Makonde. He also warned them against settling in the valleys and near large streams
because sickness and death lived there. Each village, he said, should be at least a one-hour walk from the nearest source of water, if they lived any closer,
they would be plagued by illness and death.