Explore The Makonde People

Explore The Makonde People, One Of Tanzania’s Fascinating Tribes : Almost 58 million individuals call Tanzania home. It is challenging to discuss Tanzanian culture in the singular because there are more than 120 separate ethnic groups that speak more than 100 different languages and the Makonde People are one of them. The Tanzanian Makonde people are well known for their extraordinary woodcarving abilities and have come to represent Tanzanian culture. In the art world, their distinctive ebony carvings command high prices, but who are the Makonde and where do they come from?


The Makonde formerly had matrilineal societies with well-established carving customs. Young men learned the carving methods during initiation ceremonies, and carving was passed down from father to son as an artistic tradition. While many woodcarvers made useful tools, the more artistically inclined were required to make sculptures for religious occasions and ritualistic helmet masks called Mapiko. Although matrilineal societies, carving was usually only done by men, and the women of the tribe were absolutely forbidden from knowing what they were doing. There is a legend among Makonde carvers in Tanzania that the mother of all Makonde began as a wooden carving that came to life, Explore The Makonde People.


In northern Mozambique, the Makonde people of Tanzania first appeared. When they attempted to flee the attention of colonial and Arab slavers during the 18th and 19th centuries, they were forced north and west onto the high Mueda Plateau, on both banks of the Ruvuma River. At the start of World War I, when the Portuguese began to invade their territories, they lived in relative peace in this inhospitable hinterland.


It didn’t take long for the colonial powers to recognize the importance of the Makonde carvers, and while other ethnic groups were compelled to labor for them in order to pay taxes, the Makonde were able to make a living from their distinctive carvings. The importance and worth of the artwork that missionaries and colonialists commissioned led to a rapid expansion of the Makonde carvers’ repertoire. In order to meet demand, carvers frequently established carving settlements. Throughout time, the Makonde carvers traveled as far as Dar es Salaam in order to access better markets.

Makonde art evolved over time from being a secret art for ceremonial purposes to becoming a creative and economic force in Tanzanian society. The granting of artisan permits permitted carvers to work on their craft full-time and exempted them from being subject to forced labor. The Makonde carvings were made available on a global market because of the prosperous export industries of the colonial rulers, Explore The Makonde People.

Their creative abilities evolved into three separate modes of expression during the following century. Realistic human and animal images were shown in Binadamu; human interdependence and connection were expressed in Ujamaa; and visionary sculptures of their spirit world were created in Shetani.


Tanzanian Makonde carvers frequently organize themselves into cooperatives or communities. People congregate, usually in the shade of a large tree, and while seated on the ground with a block of Mpingo in between their knees, they carve out designs that represent Tanzania’s history, myths, traditions, and cultures.


While ceremonial masks and implements were among the traditional carvings made in Tanzania, colonial needs caused the Makonde to manufacture a wider variety of carvings. Binadamu (Swahili for “humankind”), Ujamaa (the tree of life), and Shetani (carvings from the spirit world) are the three basic carving techniques.

Binadamu Sculptures

The sculptures of Binadamu depict scenes from daily life. While missionaries tended to request more religious themes, the Portuguese primarily purchased and sold animal figures as well as representations of African people going about their daily lives, such as carrying water, caring for children, hunting, and farming. During World War II, this carving technique was brought back to Kenya, where it is still sold in markets today. In addition to having a significant cultural impact in East Africa, Makonde art is popular worldwide.

Explore The Makonde People
Explore The Makonde People

Ujamaa Sculptures of Tanzania

Ujamaa sculptures, sometimes referred to as “Tree of Life” sculptures, are frequently used to refer to the relationships between families, tribal communities, and wider social groups. These columns can take up to a year to chisel, and they are frequently carved from a single tree trunk. The African family tree is shown by intertwined figures that illustrate successive generations growing older. The genre discusses relationships, cooperation, and solidarity. Tanzania’s president, Julius Nyerere, and his Ujamaa Party chose the form as the country’s emblem of political unification in the 1960s and 1970s.

Shetani Figures

These fascinating sculptures provide a window into the Makonde people’s spiritual realm. They feature mythical characters that are connected to and have influence over human behavior despite being in metaphysical worlds. Their influence may be harmful or beneficial. The spirits depicted in Shetani sculptures can be an emotion, a natural spirit, or even the devil.


Dalbergia melanoxylon—African Blackwood or Mpingo

African Blackwood is used to carve the best and most expensive Makonde carvings. African ebony, also known as Dalbergia melanoxylon, is hefty, hard, and long-lasting. One of Africa’s most precious woods is the Mpingo, which serves as Tanzania’s national tree. Furniture made of Blackwood from ancient Egypt dates back more than 5000 years, demonstrating the value of this wood over millennia. Wind instruments and violin parts are two uses for the wood that are very precious.

African Blackwood

African Blackwood was used to build the ancient tombs in Egypt because it is so robust and long-lasting. Blackwood was fashioned into splines that held the massive stones of the pyramids in place in addition to hinges and door closures.

African Blackwood is getting harder to get these days. Other wood is used by the Makonde people of Tanzania, who either burn it or wrap it with shoe polish to preserve it. But the top Makonde carvers look for African ebony, which results in the most expensive and highly sought-after carvings. The African Blackwood Conservation Project (ABCP), which was established in 1996 in the isolated Moshi district of the Kilimanjaro region, aims to replant Mpingo to guarantee that this priceless tree continues to be a valuable resource and contribute to Tanzania’s culture and legacy.


The Mwenge Woodcarvers Market is located in the center of Dar es Salaam. The market is unremarkable and uninteresting from the road. Yet once inside, there is a veritable buffet of oddities, artwork, and sculptures. Unlike your typical market, this one was created by the craftspeople themselves, Explore The Makonde People.

 This Tanzanian cooperative was founded by a group of roughly 200 carvers and adheres to the Makonde Carvers heritage. At the Mwenge Woodworkers Market, you can observe the artisans hard at work, producing lovely items for sale. The Makonde Carvers produced several magnificent things in a variety of styles. If you have the time, you can even commission work. This is a fantastic location to acquire gifts or mementos to remember your Tanzania safari.

The ambience at the Mwenge Woodcarvers Market is distinctively hassle-free. Although you will be enticed to visit the numerous stalls, there is no obligation to purchase anything. Take your time to browse, converse with the carvers, and estimate prices. Return to the items that piqued your interest after that. It’s normal to haggle, but do it with decency, courtesy, and a sense of humor. They are professional carvers that rely on their income from this old art form that has been handed down through the years to sustain their families.


During Tanzania’s history, the Makonde carvers have followed a distinctive path. Their artistic style, which is always evolving and adapting, is a singular reflection of Tanzanian culture and aesthetics. Finding a Makonde carving can be an adventure in and of itself, even though Tanzania is one of the top safari locations in Africa. The elaborate and thorough carvings are evidence of the talent and inventiveness of these Tanzanian people, who have carved a niche for themselves in the global canon of art.