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.

Iconographic meaning

The genitals of both figures are exaggerated, probably not to evoke sensuous emotions but rather to suggest the power of the pro-creative force. The greatly enlarged scrotum of the male figure might also be indicative of a common African disease, elephantiasis.

Physical description

Stylized figurative carving of black wood, with two tan-coloured streaks. Two figures; upper figure is a partially naturalistic male with arms that terminate in two four-toed feet which are raised above his head holding an incised oval object. Two leg-like lower limbs; leg on left terminates in a hand which rests on the back of an abstract figure below him; other leg terminates in a two-pronged hand which holds elongated penis in mouth of lower figure. Hanging between male figure's legs is an enlarged sac incised in a herring-bone design. Lower figure is abstract with a large reptilian head, big teeth, long nose, protruding tongue. Seated on an angle; torso terminates in a single limb and foot. At base of torso is an ovoid cavity suggesting female genitals.