Meet the Makonde
February 11, 2010
The Makonde are an ethnic group from the Mtwara Region of southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique East Africa. They are a people of the plateau: first dwelling on the Mueda Plateau in Mozambique and then also on the Newala Plateau of Tanzania. These plateaus have encouraged isolation from the early colonizers and slave traders of the Middle East and Europe; in fact, not until 1920 did the Makonde fall under colonial power. Partially as a result of this isolation the Makonde people have maintained a large part of their cultural heritage. Some of this heritage includes their coming-of-age ceremonies, tattooing, scarification, and most famously, their wood carvings. Their carvings include figures, masks, and household objects, many of which are portrayals of the Makonde tribal spirits or “shetani.” The vernacular language is ChiMakonde, but they also speak Portuguese in Mozambique, English in Tanzania, and Swahili in both countries. The Makonde population in Tanzania is 1,140,000 (2001) and in Mozambique it is 233,358 (1997).