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).

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2 Responses to “Meet the Makonde”

  1. Brent Record said

    I have two Makonde helmet masks and would like to know what kind of wood they are carved from. The masks are very light in weight. Brent Record

  2. Nancy and I have two beautiful Makonde ebony carvings of a fully clothed Massai warrior carrying a shield and spear, and a Makonde woman walking with a young child. We bought these some years ago when we visited the beautiful carving palace in Tanzania with our wonderful guide, Baraza Salaho of Bushbuck.Tours. These figures stand almost life size, and they are in our dining area adjacent on both sides of the doorway to our African room which is replete with African art of which we are so proud, and which reminds of our three wonderful safaris to the great continent of Africa. Judge Stuart Namm (Ret).

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