Five Things one should know Series: Part 1

This is the first in the series of “Five things one should know”  in relation to an African tribe. Contrary to the title I sneak in a sixth item on the sly… that’s right, just knowing the name of the tribe should count. I’ve found that I can easily remember the name of the tribe and the dominant tribal mask. Beyond that everything gets really fuzzy in a hurry. At times even the country or location is a stretch to remember, but that’s important.

The categories I picked are,

  • Dominant mask
  • Country/Location
  • Something religous/socially interesting
  • Something historical
  • Something culturally different

 Five Things one should know about the Makonde

 Dominant mask : Mapiko

Makonde Tribal Mask - Mapiko


The Mapiko/Lipiko mask is worn tilted over the top of the head and the wearer can see through the space in the mouth. They are relatively realistic and highly stylized, making them very recognizable. The masks may have tufts of human or animal hair, show scarification, and lip plugs. They are used both in initiation rites and in festivals or masquerades. The Makonde are also known for their blackwood (African ebony), “Tree of Life” carvings, incorporating intertwined figures.

 Makonde Tribal Mask - Mapiko

Country / Location:

East Africa, near the border separating Tanzania and Mozambique.


The two major religions in the District are Christianity and Muslim. There are still pockets of the original animist beliefs, and ancestors are revered by many people.

Historic Migration

In the second half of the 19th century the majority of the Makonde migrated from Mozambique to Tanzania, in part to secure their people from the slave trade. The plateau they settled, the Newala plateau, was surrounded by a thick thorny bush called Konde, hence the name ‘people of konde’ or Makonde.


Cultural Difference

The Makonde have an established ancestress cult. In Makonde legend the first man sculpted a woman using wood. This woman became real and bore many children. Prior to colonial times the tribes consisted of matrilineal villages, linked by a common female ancestor. This may account for the strong respect for women as life givers and protectors.

 The Creation Myth[1]

“The first Makonde settled along the Ruvuma River.  He was not yet fully a human being.  He was unkempt, starving and desperate.  One night he felt sad and dispirited.  For entertainment her carved an image of himself out of a piece of wood.  When he woke in the morning, the sculpture he carved was alive.  It had become a woman in the flesh.  He found great pleasure in her company to the extent that he bathed himself clean and took good care of his appearance as a man.  But as long as they live along the Ruvuma River, their children caught ill and died.  When they move to the semi-arid plateau they were able to have a long and happy life together”.  –  collected by Pater Adams 1902


4 Responses to Five Things one should know Series: Part 1

  1. Sweettrini says:

    Thank you for this. It was information that I never knew and really had no idea where to find it. Cheers

  2. mich says:

    Thanks for sharing and congrats on our website 🙂

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