of African terms
Makonde are Bantu speaking people originally from Mozambique,
with some moving northward to Tanzania. They are primarily farmers growing
maize, sorghum, and cassava. The Makonde people still follow their tripartite
view of the world, consisting of the sky -where the gods live-, the
world of spirits and the human world. Woodcarving
is an important part of Makonde life, both in ancestor worshipping and
in their own myth of creation. When the Makonde moved to Tanzania, selling
woodcarving became an important means of income. The three most common
styles of carving are Binadamu, Shetani and Ujamaa.
Binadamu is Swahili
for Human Being. The binadamu carving style therefore is used to represent
Makonde men and women pursuing traditional roles in their daily life:
old men smoking pipes, men playing instruments, women with calabashes
fetching water, and so on. The style is naturalistic.
is Swahili for spirit or devil. It is the most recent style of carving
and depicts the spirits of Makonde folklore in abstract and sometimes
grotesque forms. The
Makonde believe there are hundreds of these spirits and have names
for many. Their ancestors have described these creatures, many having
encountered them in the forests. It is with this style that the imagination
can run wild.
Ujamaa is a Swahili
word meaning unity and was the for socialism in Tanzania. Ujamaa is
a style of carving, also known as "tree of life", which
depicts intricate interlocking human figures representing unity and
Mpingo is the Swahili
name for the African Blackwood tree and the wood of choice used by the
Makonde and other groups for their wood carvings. This wood is usually
referred to as ebony because of its beautiful dark colored heartwood.
It also is the premier wood of choice for fine concert-quality woodwind
instruments such as clarinets, oboes and flutes, as well as bagpipes
due to its density, fine texture and exceptional durability.
Perhaps the best
known of the African peoples are the Maasai, pastoral nomads, who live
in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They can still be seen in traditional
dress, red blankets and colorful beadwork, tending their cattle on the
East African plains.
The Ndebele people
live in South Africa in the Transvaal and are known for their colorful
houses painted in geometric patterns as well as their intricate colorful
beadwork and traditional dress.
The Shona people
are from Zimbabwe and are best known for their skills in sculpting the
different varieties of stone found in Zimbabwe.
is steeped in the legend and traditions of an ancient African culture,
yet stunningly modern in appearance. Shona sculptors, transcending geography
and time, create in the living stone profound expressions of the human
condition. Sculpting by hand with simple and found tools, these self-taught
artists carve in indigenous serpentine, granite, and rare precious verdite.
The result is a diverse body of work alive with dynamic, spiritual themes.
Select pieces can be found in the permanent collections of many museums,
including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Rodin Museum in
Paris, and the London Museum of Contemporary Art.
called Shona sculpture "the most important new art form to emerge
from Africa in the last hundred years," while the Economist proclaimed
Shona sculptors to be the "world's best unknown artists."
The first and most important step sculptors take is choosing their
stone. The most popular stones used are brown, green and black serpentine,
springstone, opal, verdite, leopard rock, rapoko and red jasper.
Only after seeing the shape, color and size of the stone will the
artist decide on the subject he will sculpt.
artist shapes the stone using a hammer, chisel, knife and rasp.
stones are finished by hand with wet sand paper.
stones are heated mainly with a gas flame so the polish will be easily
absorbed, resulting in a long lasting finish when polished.
white wax furniture polish or beeswax is applied immediately while
the piece is still hot. Once cooled, it is shined with a soft cloth.
The Tonga people
live in remote northwestern Zimbabwe. They were forcibly removed from
the Zambezi Valley to make way for the filling of Kariba Dam in 1957.
Now they survive on harsh, dry land 12km from the Zambezi River, with
little more than their vibrant and exotic culture, which, because of
their isolation, remains vivid and strong.
is a semi-precious stone, formed over 3,500 million years ago, and found
only in southern Africa. The highest quality verdite contains corundum
(the second hardest natural mineral known to science) and is only found
in Zimbabwe. Only the more experienced sculptor will ever use this medium.
Verdite rates between a 7.0-9.0, depending upon the amount of corundum
inclusions, on the Hohs hardness scale. Due to the rareness of verdite,
carvings from this stone will become increasingly more valuable.