Modern Makonde art – a sculpture of intricately carved interlocking human figures – representing the concept of Ujamaa, ‘familyhood’, developed by Julius Nyerere, president of Tanzania from 1964 to 1985.
For centuries, carvings by the Makonde have played a central role in their ceremonies. The carvings are made of Mpingo, ebony, with a light coloured bark, then a thin layer of soft white wood and a heart wood that is very hard and varies in colour from a deep red to black depending on the soil type and age of the tree.
The Makonde people originate from Mozambique and some migrated north to Tanzania. This is where modern Makonde sculpture began in response to the struggle for liberation and interest from the West in the art.
Modern Makonde differs from traditional Makonde art in that it does not represent objects of worship. The Makonde people in Mozambique lived in remote areas while the Makonde people in Tanzania lived near the Indian Ocean living an urban life. These different environments influenced their artwork with Mozambique Makonde art more strongly adhering to traditional cultural practices.
About the wood
The Mpingo tree grows in Tanzania and Mozambique and takes 70 years to mature. It is at risk of becoming commercially unavailable in 20 years due to indiscriminate harvesting. A ban on export of raw Mpingo logs from Tanzania to Kenya already exists but this does not stop illegal trafficking of the wood. The wood has many uses: all-wooden hoes, pestles, knife handles, supports for buildings such as granaries, house construction and floors for pit latrines. The tree is also used by villagers as animal fodder, medicine, as a dye and as green manure. The greatest remaining stock of Mpingo is found in southern Tanzania, the land where the Makonde settled.
We ensure that the wood used by our carvers and artists are sourced legally with permits.