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The People Makonde: Mystical Sculptors

Mykola is interested in art as a powerful tool of recognition. Vita brevis, ars longa (life is short, art is eternal) is his motto

The First Makonde

They live in Isolation

Makonde people lived on the banks of Ruvuma River. Later, they were located on Mueda Plateau. Nowadays, this ethnic group lives in Mozambique and Southeast Tanzania, partly in Kenia. The Makonde beliefs are animist.

Legend Connected with Carving

Carving plays a main function in the legend about the Makonde people.

Once upon a time, in woods, a lonely creature lived. It saw a beautiful tree and started carving a feminine figure. In one night, the carving leaning against a tree turned into a real beautiful woman. The creature and the woman fall in love. They reached the bank of the river, where the stillborn child was born.

Then, they decided to walk farther, where the woman had another stillborn child.

They approached the plateau. There was the same land, where the Makonde live today. As a result, the woman delivered the third child. This child survived. He grew up and became the first Makonde.

The story explains why female figures and figurines are the most meaningful and frequent among Makonde pieces of art.

Large Fertility



Characteristics of the Ebony Tree

The trees grow mainly in the tropical regions of West Africa and Southeast Asia. They do it very slowly and don't reach a large size at maturity. The Ebony tree is extremely dense, it ranges from 2400 lbs to 3200lbf on the Janka scale. There is the hardest wood in the world with the distinct black coloration. This factor makes the Ebony tree very difficult to work. That's why it is often used in carving, musical instruments. Natural oil content provides a high natural shine after sanding.

The ebony tree doesn't give way to the stone in comparison with its hardness. Moreover, masters of woodcarving were creating complex compositions of scenes and weaves.

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Ebony Tree



Makonde Proverbs and Bible Parallels

.1. Makonde proverb (In English) - When the roots begin to rot, the branches begin to die.

Bible parallel: Job 14:7-9 “For there is hope for a tree. When it is cut down, that it will sprout again, And its shoots will not fail. “Though its roots grow old in the ground And its stump dies in the dry soil, At the scent of water it will flourish And put forth sprigs like a plant.”

.2. Where there is a dead tree there are no monkeys.

Bible parallel: Proverbs 19:4. Wealth maketh many friends, but the poor is separated from his neighbor.

.3. If when climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you.

Bible parallel: Proverb 19:20 - 21: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Life Tree in African Culture

In African countries, trees provide shade (temperature!), food, firewood for cooking. They give lumber for furniture and building. Also, trees are used for making things for different purposes, the bright example is carving. It includes images of gods and their homes. These images of trees make them sacred symbols of life. There is a mythical tree of life from which all creatures, included humans, originated. It exists in the nether or underworld.

Family Tree Life

Family Tree

Family Tree

The spreading of world religions, especially Christianity, often in violent form, ruins the original vision and beliefs of non-European peoples. One of the specific features of the nation is art. It doesn't depend on the scientific and technological development of the nation. The desire for Beauty remains eternal in human creatures. It doesn't matter are they Blacks or Whites, or of other colors.

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