Figure

About this object

History of use

The Makonde were a matriarchal, agricultural society. Traditionally, it is thought, the sculpture of the Makonde was restricted to ceremonial and ritual goods. Shetani spirits or creatures, now seen in contemporary Makonde sculpture, were probably unknown before the advent of commercial art production in the mid-1950's. Tales of encounters with these rarely seen spirits or creatures were part of Makonde mythology and folklore and may have served as artistic inspiration for the pieces.

Cultural context

Commercial art. Early commercial Makonde sculpture primarily consisted of naturalistic pieces and copies of well known Kenyan woodcarvings. In the mid-1950's, around Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's main city, sculptors began carving Shetani spirits or creatures. These images proved to be commercially successful.

Iconographic meaning

Large ears indicate a Shetani spirit. The beak suggests bird associations, while biting is a traditional theme for nourishment and fertility.

Physical description

Two squatting armless figures. Figure on the right has circular eyes, a broad flat nose, and an open mouth with upper teeth. The lower limb on the left curves up then down and ends at the base while the limb on the right points downward and ends in an elongated foot at the base. Figure on the right is biting the large ear on the right of the figure on the left. Figure on the left has large circular eyes, a broad flat nose, a long beak-like mouth, and a large ear on the left of the head. The body curves diagonally to the left, forms a bulbous shape, extends up to the right, bends, flows diagonally towards the base, curves and extends to the right, passes through the beak-like mouth, and ends at the base.