The Makonde are an ethnic group in southeast Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

 and northern Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

. The Makonde developed their culture on the Mueda Plateau in Mozambique. At present they live throughout Tanzania and Mozambique and have a small presence in Kenya. The Makonde population in Tanzania was estimated in 2001 to be 1,140,000, and the 1997 census in Mozambique put the Makonde population in that country at 233,358, for a total estimate of 1,373,358.
The Makonde successfully resisted predation by African, Arab, and European slaver
Slaver has several meanings:*One who deals in slaves - see slave trade*A slave ship*Saliva, i.e. either the result or act of drooling as opposed to normal salivation....

s. They did not fall under colonial power until the 1920s. During the 1960s the revolution which drove the Portuguese out of Mozambique was launched from the Makonde homeland of the Mueda Plateau. At one period this revolutionary movement known as 'Frelimo' derived a part of its financial support from the sale of Makonde carvings. The Makonde are best known for their wood carvings and their observances of puberty rites.

They speak Makonde
Makonde language
Makonde is the language spoken by the Makonde, an ethnic group in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Makonde is a central Bantu language closely related to Yao...

, also known as ChiMakonde, a Bantu language
Bantu languages
The Bantu languages constitute a traditional sub-branch of the Niger–Congo languages. There are about 250 Bantu languages by the criterion of mutual intelligibility, though the distinction between language and dialect is often unclear, and Ethnologue counts 535 languages...

 closely related to Yao. Many speak other languages such as English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 in Tanzania, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 in Mozambique, and Swahili
Swahili language
Swahili or Kiswahili is a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoro Islands. It is also spoken by ethnic minority groups in Somalia...

 and Makua
Makua language
The Makhuwa language is a Bantu language spoken by 3 million Makua people, who live north of the Zambezi River in Mozambique, particularly in the province of Nampula...

 in both countries. The Makonde are traditionally a matrilineal society where children and inheritances belong to women, and husbands move into the village of their wives. Their traditional religion is an animistic form of ancestor worship and still continues, although Makonde of Tanzania are nominally Muslim and those of Mozambique are Catholic or Muslim. In Makonde rituals, when a girl becomes a woman, Muidini is the best dancer out of the group of girls undergoing the rituals.

Makonde art

The art of the Makonde must be subdivided into different areas. The Makonde traditionally carve household objects, figures and masks. After the 1930s, the Portuguese colonizers and other missionaries arrived at the
Makonde plateau. They immediately showed great interest and fascination for the
Makonde wood carvings and began to order different pieces, from religious until political
“eminences.” The Makonde sculptors, after noticing such interest, decided to carve the
new pieces using pau-preto (ebony wood, Diospyros ebenum) and pau-rosa (Swartzia
spp.) instead of the soft and non long-lasting wood they had used before. This first
contact with the Western culture can be considered to be the first introduction of the
classical european style into the traditional Makonde style.Since the 1950s years the socalled Modern Makonde Art has been developed. An essential step was the turning to abstract figures, mostly spirits, Shetani
Shetani are spirits of East African mythology and popular belief. Mostly malevolent, and found in many different forms and different types with different powers, shetani are a popular subject of carved artwork, especially by the Makonde people of Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique...

, that play a special role. Makonde are also part of the important contemporary artists of Africa today. The most internationally acknowledged such artist was George Lilanga
George Lilanga
George Lilanga was a Tanzanian artist. He was of the Makonde tribe and lived in Dar es Salaam. His work was exhibited in international expositions of African contemporaries including Africa Remix in Düsseldorf, Paris, London and Tokyo...


The ex libris of ritual Makonde art are the unique Mapiko masks (singular: Lipiko), which have been used in coming-of-age rituals since before contact was made with missionaries in the 19th century. These masks are painstakingly carved from a single block of light wood (usually 'sumaumeira brava') and may represent spirits ('shetani'), ancestors, or living characters (real or idealized). The dancer wears them so that he sees through the mask's mouth and the mask faces straight when he bends forward. Examples of such masks are provided in the second row of pictures below.

External links

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