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

Deep striations on the surface seem to suggest the depiction of the dead in human or spirit form.

Physical description

Carving of human, animal figures, and heads. One side of the sculpture is occupied almost entirely by the back view of a squatting male figure clothed in a loincloth. The head is turned to the right with the arms bent at the elbows and raised, extending slightly around the sides of the sculpture. Over the top of the head of the large figure, there is another humanoid figure with a monkey head. It is deeply striated and the facial features are prominent, especially the teeth. Above the humanoid figure, there is a deeply striated one with a curved back and a hump just behind the head. Underneath to the left, there is a human skull, and below this, there is an elongated human figure with upraised hands. Its head is skull-like. On the right, there is a human face in profile with its chin resting on a hand. Below this, there is another human head in profile, and below that, there is an animal head in profile, and which is heavily striated. The base is also striated, as is the middle area of one side.