A Guide to Family Tree Style Makonde Sculptures
One of the most popular and fascinating forms of Makonde art is sculpture – especially
Makonde sculptures Makonde sculptures. These pieces have become extremely popular today with art collectors and homeowners alike. Considering they come in many shapes, sizes, and types of carvings, it’s not surprising they are popping up all over the world.
Like any other piece of art, the history and origins of the Family Tree Style sculpture only adds to its intrigue.
Even though these carvings have been known by a number of different names, the significance and meaning of the carvings have remained the same over the years.
Ujamaa means community and family. This meaning is also echoed in the “Tree of Life” pieces which speak to a common human ancestral heritage. This is why you often see symbols of support and generations of family. Overall, the piece brings out the community harmony the Makonde people strongly believe in.
Origins of Family Tree Style SculpturesThe Family Tree Style sculptures, which are also referred to as “Tree of Life,” date back to the late 1950s and an artistic style called Dimoongo – one of the eight major Makonde styles.
Professor Elias Jengo explains:“A style called Dimoongo (power of strength), which a local political zealot later named Ujamaa, was introduced by the late Roberto Yakobo Sangwani who migrated into Tanzania from Mozambique in the late 1950s. The original style represented a winner in a wrestling match who was carried shoulder high by his colleagues represented in a cluster of figures. Some later versions were carved showing a female figure at the top of a cluster of figures. This was the beginning of a style known as the Makonde family tree.” With a history of name changes, tracking the Makonde Family Tree sculptures can be a little confusing for the average person. Dimoongo, Ujamaa, and Tree of Life all refer to the same style of art. Learn more about the eight Makonde art styles here
Significance of the Makonde “Family Tree”
Common Characteristics and DepictionsThe sculptures, while they can take on a variety of shapes, forms, and sizes, have a number of common characteristics representing the symbolism and significance of the carvings. The carvings typically include:
- A column of people, with one central figure surrounded by smaller figures
- One large figure at the top of the pole – often a central figure such as a tribal chief. More modern carvings typically have a female figure at the top
- They commonly depict members of extended family – often representing multiple generations
- People are often depicted climbing or holding each other up (representing support)
- People are often shown performing traditional tasks and local work such as cooking or farming
- The sculptures have become popular because of their intricate design and decor.
- They are carved from African blackwood (also known as mpingo)
- High quality pieces are carved from a single large tree trunk