Tanzania, Zanzibar and Pemba

Fitzpatrick, Mary


Book ID 323

See also

Fitzpatrick, Mary Tanzania, Zanzibar and Pemba, 1999
Page Number: 34,35

Sculpture & Woodcarving

Among the major representatives of Tanzanian figurative art are the Makonde, who are renowned throughout East Africa for their original and often highly fanciful carvings. Authentic Makonde carvings are made from ebony wood. Some of the simpler ones relate to the cult of womanhood and are carried by the male carver as a good luck talisman. More common are those with ujamaa motifs, and those known as shetani, which embody images from the spirit world.

Ujamaa carvings are frequently designed as a totem pole or 'tree of life' containing from several to many interlaced human and animal figures, each of which is connected with and giving support to all of the others. These carvings often reach several metres in height, and are almost always made from a single piece of wood. Among the most impressive are those designed around a hollow central column. One of the most well known of the original ujamaa-style carvers is Roberto Jacobo. Jacobo traditionally carved only one sculpture each year as inspiration for his students, who would then produce modified versions for commercial sale.

The shetani style, which has become popular in recent years, was first developed by an artist known as Samaki. Carvings with shetani motifs are very abstract, often grotesque, and are designed to challenge the viewer to new interpretations while giving the carver's imagination free reign. In contrast to the ujamaa and shetani motifs, which are relatively recent, earlier Makonde carvings generally depicted more traditional themes, often relating to various deities or rituals. Even today, the Makonde produce carvings of ordinary household objects such as bowls and walking sticks, although these are seldom seen for sale.

While it can be argued that the extensive commercialisation of Makonde carvings has had a negative impact on artistic and imaginative quality, it has not totally destroyed originality. On the positive side, it has had the effect of securing many carvers a livelihood which they would not have been able to achieve otherwise.

The major centres of Makonde carving in Tanzania are in the south-east on the Makonde plateau, and in Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam became a haven for Makonde carvers during the large-scale migrations from Mozambique in the 1950s and 1960s. Many Makonde migrants made their way from Mozambique into southern Tanzania, and from there to the capital, attracted by better employment opportunities and by favourable marketing prospects for their carving.

Extract ID: 1401

See also

Fitzpatrick, Mary Tanzania, Zanzibar and Pemba, 1999
Page Number: 35


Tanzania's most well-known style of painting was begun in the 1960s by Edward Saidi Tingatinga, after whom it is named. Tingatinga was born in 1932 in southern Tanzania's remote Tunduru district, and had only four years of primary school, in the 1950s, he headed north to Tanga, where he worked on a sisal plantation, and then later to Dar es Salaam, where he worked as domestic help fora British civil servant. During his time in Dar es Salaam, Tingatinga began to seek creative outlets and additional income, first as a member of a musical group, and later as a self-taught artist, painting fanciful and colourful animals on small shingles.

Tingatinga's wife sold his paintings near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, and his work soon became popular with European tourists. As his success grew, Tingatinga began to attract a small circle of students, with first his relatives and then others learning to imitate his style.

Then, one night in 1972, Tingatinga was mistaken for an escaping thief and fatally shot by the police. Following his death, Tingatinga's students organised themselves into the Tingatinga Partnership, which in 1990 was renamed the Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society. This cooperative, which numbers about 50 members (including two women), is still based near Morogoro Stores in Dar es Salaam, where Tingatinga's works were originally sold. It has received significant support in recent years, including a new building, from Helvetas (the Swiss Association for International Cooperation).

Traditional Tingatinga paintings are composed in a square format, and generally feature colourful animal motifs against a monochrome background. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the style is its use of undiluted and often unmixed enamel and high-gloss paints which give Tingatinga paintings their characteristic glossy appearance.

Extract ID: 1400