Left Continue shopping
Your Order

You have no items in your cart

Free Shipping | 30-Day Money Back

Blog / Category_People of Africa

Silver Jewelry with Meaning - The Tuaregs of Agadez

Among the nomadic Tuareg people of northern Africa, jewelry has meaning. After all, a nomadic people have little incentive to cart loads of trendy, meaningless paraphernalia. Livestock and vehicles traversing untamed, inhospitable terrain of the Sahara desert require thoughtful consideration before adding to the loads they bear. Therefore, the items the Tuareg often serve multiple purposes--and that includes jewelry.
Read more

A Guide to Family Tree Style Makonde Sculptures

One of the most popular and fascinating forms of Makonde art is sculpture – especially.  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.

Origins of Family Tree Style Sculptures

The 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.

Significance of the Makonde “Family Tree”

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.

Common Characteristics and Depictions

The 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.

About the Artists and the Canvas

Family tree sculptures can be as tall as 6 feet, taking artisans up to 9 months to complete. However, they also come in many other sizes, ensuring you can find the perfect carving for your home or office decor.
  • 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.

What really communicates the beauty of these carvings is their unparalleled, intricately detailed and delicate shapes, making these sculptures highly desirable. Please take a few moments to explore our collection of Family Tree Style Sculptures. They are fascinating pieces, deeply rooted in history. Bring a piece of Africa home with you today. Add a Family Tree Sculpture to your home or office. A unique and fascinating accent, they are also great conversation starters!

Read more

The Tuareg: Nomadic Silver Craftsmen of Africa

Tuareg culture is rich in history and tradition. A semi-nomadic Berber people, the Tuareg inhabit a large area of the middle and western Sahara and travel throughout Algeria, Mali, Niger and as far as Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria. In fact, Tuareg people don't perceive the Sahara as one desert, but as many. They call the Sahara "Tinariwen" which means "the deserts". The Tuareg language is spoken by more than 1 million people. Extraordinary silversmiths, the Tuareg produce some of the most unique silver jewelry  in the world. 

Shopping for a unique piece of jewelry that will turn heads? Well, look no further. Zawadee carries a large collection of beautiful and elegant silver jewelry handcrafted by the Tuareg people. Check out our unique collection of eclectic silver necklaces, pendants, and earrings. 

The Fascinating Life of the Tuareg People

The Tuareg are a fiercely independent people who maintain their Berber ways. They produce stunning jewelry in bold and simplistic designs - very geometric and symmetrical. They believe that silver is the metal of the prophet and, in fact, Tuareg women often have a superstitious fear of gold and will not wear it.

Silver is a part of every family history, as it holds both symbolic and real value and is used for barter and trading.  Unique jewelry made from silver and often combined with other items collected along their travels, such as gemstones, rare woods and other fascinating materials.

The Tuareg People in Pop Culture

  • In 2003, Volkswagen named their new SUV line the Touareg (a common alternative spelling).

  • The 2005 film Sahara features a group of Tuareg

  • Spanish author Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa's novel Tuareg (1980) sold more than 5,000,000 copies and was adapted into a 1984 movie starring Mark Harmon entitled Tuareg – The Desert Warrior

Much of the Tuareg peoples’ cultural and artistic identity and resourceful and inventive spirit is expressed in their jewelry, as well as, leather and metal saddle decorations and swords. However, they have become known globally for their skill in jewelry making, primarily for their silver jewelry designs.

Necklaces worn by a Tuareg woman often depict her history and the story of her people, as well as her city of origin.

Each piece of Tuareg silver jewelry has special meaning. Each piece contains a message and historical symbols, which are passed down from generation to generation. Showcasing the intricate use of design in their silversmithing techniques, our Azel Collection will be sure to have that "must-have piece" to set off your fall and winter wardrobe. A wonderful choice as a holiday gift, or - what the dickins - to please yourself!


Read more

The Green Belt Movement: Making A Difference One Tree At A Time

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.”

The Green Belt Movement (GBM) is an environmental organization, based in Kenya, which seeks to empower communities to conserve the environment. It was founded in 1977 by Professor Wangari Maathai as an offshoot of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) in response to the requests of rural Kenyan women. These women noticed a number of environmental issues that were posing a threat to the African environment, namely the drying up of streams, unsecured food supplies.


The vision of the organization is to create “a values-driven society of people who consciously work for continued improvement of their livelihoods and a greener, cleaner world.” This vision drives their mission of creating better environmental management and community livelihood through tree planting. 

How much of an impact has the Green Belt Movement had to date?

Here is a look at GBM by the numbers:
  • Number of GBM-supported community tree nursery groups 4,034

  • Number of indigenous seedlings raised by the community nurseries annually – 8,000,000 seedlings

  • Average number of trees planted in critical watershed areas annually – 5,000,000 trees

  • Number of tree planting sites in critical watersheds across Kenya – 6,500

  • Total number of trees planted since 1978 to date – over 51 million

  • Average survival rate – 70%

The Green Belt Movement’s Three Pillars of Activity:

  1. Community Empowerment and Education: GBM believes that education and community empowerment is important to help people understand the connection between a healthy environment and human activities.
  1. Planting Trees: GBM focuses on planting the right trees in the right locations to have a maximum impact on the ecosystem, helping to preserve the environment for years to come.
  1. Advocacy: GBM uses a grassroots approach to help local communities maintain a healthy and fruitful environment. However, GBM also has an international presence and advocates for environmental policies to protect forest ecosystems in sub-Saharan Africa and the Congo Basin Rainforest Ecosystem.


About Wangari Maathai – The Founder of the Green Belt Movement

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

Wangari Maathai was internationally recognized for her advocacy for human rights, democracy, and environmental conservation. She was the 2004 laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, author and former chairman of the National Council of Women of Kenya. Her work at the council led to the concept of community-based tree planting and the original concept for the Greenbelt Movement. Maathai passed away on September 25, 2011, but she left us a lasting legacy and made great impact on the Kenyan environment and community. Her awards, achievements and personal affiliations are too many to list. Her dozens of honorary degrees and awards are a testament to her impact on the environment.

Want to learn more about Wangari? Check out her publications:

  • The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience

  • Unbowed: A Memoir

  • The Challenge for Africa

  • Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World

Purchase copies of her books here NOTE: If you click through to purchase any item from Amazon, a percentage of the sale is donated to the Green Belt Movement.

DONATE to the Green Belt Movement

There are a number of ways to get involved with the Green Belt Movement and support this great cause:
TAKE 15% OFF Entire Order
Read more

The Zulu Kingdom: Click Speaking, Miriam Makeba and More!

The Zulu (pronounced ZOO-loo) people are one of the most well-known groups in Africa, most notably for their unique style of speaking. Descendants of the Nguni-speaking people, they are known for their "click" speaking and singing.

Today, close to 10 million Zulu-speaking people live in South Africa, primarily in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. Some also reside in other areas, including Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. However, the Zulu tribe’s people are concentrated in rural and urban communities in the southern part of the continent. To learn more about the culture and history of the fascinating Zulu people, we highly recommend viewing this video - Kingdoms of Africa: The Zulu Kingdom (Episode 6 of 8 about the Kingdoms of Africa).

"Shaka kaSenzangakhona, also known as Shaka Zulu was the most influential leader of the Zulu Kingdom. He is widely credited with uniting many of the Northern Nguni people, specifically the Mtetwa Paramountcy and the Ndwandwe into the Zulu Kingdom, the beginnings of a nation that held sway over the portion of southern Africa between the Phongolo and Mzimkhulu Rivers, and his statesmanship and vigour marked him as one of the greatest Zulu kings. He has been called a military genius for his reforms and innovations, and condemned for the brutality of his reign." Source: Kingdoms of Africa.

Here is a map showing the approximate geographical area of South Africa where isiZulu is spoken (indicated in green)

isiZulu Language

To the surprise of many, click speaking, which is formally known as the isiZulu language, is one of the most dominant languages in South Africa. In fact, the language is so popular that it became one of South Africa’s official languages in 1994. To date, there are 11 official languages.

Zulu is the most widely spoken language in the home, and it is understood by well over 50% of the population in the region. “Zulu is idiomatic and proverbial and is characterized by many clicks. The Zulu language is characterized by hlonipha (respect) terms. Addressing those who are older than oneself, especially elderly and senior people, by their first names is viewed as lack of respect. Therefore, terms like baba (father) and mama (mother) are used not only to address one's parents but also other senior males and females of the community.” Since the Zulu tribe has religious roots in Christian and traditional beliefs, it makes sense that Christian missionaries were the first to create a way to write Zulu. The first Zulu Christian booklet was written by Newton Adams, George Newton and Aldin Grout between 1837 and 1838. It was titled Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo, and it explained the spelling of Zulu words as well as the history of the Old Testament. One our favourite examples of the "click" songs of the Zulu people is the venerable Miriam Makeba - Mama Afrika. Enjoy her famous performance of Quongqothwane, also known as the click song during the festival "Zaire 74".

Zulu Musical Style

As with many Africa cultures, music is a group activity for the Zulu people. Often, all village members will join in producing the music that accompanies ritualistic dance. Members of the group will gather around the main performers of the dance, singing in unison while other members play instruments.

Zulu Instruments

The Zulu use many musical instruments that are common to African music. They employ several types of drums, including the djembe drum and the ngoma drum, into their performances, as well as ankle rattles, shakers, rain sticks and bells. The Zulu also use their bodies as instruments by clapping and slapping parts of their bodies rhythmically.

Perhaps, the most fascinating features of the Zulu language is the use of click consonants. These consonants are unique and unlike anything we use in the English language to form words and phrases. Even though the click sound feature is shared with a number of languages in southern Africa, it is primarily used in the KwaZulu-Natal region.


As outlined on Wikipedia, there are three articulations of clicks in the Zulu language:

  • c: dental (comparable to a sucking of teeth, as the sound one makes for 'tsk tsk')
  • q: alveolar (comparable to a bottle top 'pop')
  • x: lateral (comparable to a click one may do for a walking horse)

Each articulation covers five click consonants, with differences such as being voiced, aspirated, or nasalised, for a total of 15 different click sounds.

The Zulu Alphabet

Here is a chart outlining the Zulu pronunciation and click consonants that make up the language: 


Learn the Zulu Click Sounds

Talking about the Zulu language is one thing, but actually hearing the sounds and learning how to make the click sounds will provide you with proper context. Here are a number of instructional videos that will teach you about the basics of the click speaking of the Zulu Tribe:

Q, Qh & Gq Click Sounds

X, Xh, Gx Click Sounds


Read more

The Maasai Olympics: Replacing Hunting for Lions with Hunting for Medals

"This Maasai Olympics has been the greatest celebration of Maasai culture I have ever attended,” - Katoo Ole Metito (Maasai), Minister of Internal Security, Government of Kenya.

Lion Hunting: A Maasai Tradition

Lion hunting is a tradition in Maasai culture. In the past, hunting was used as an event to signify the transition of young men into manhood. Lion hunting was also a symbol of strength, vitality and prowess to attract females. However, over the years, the tradition of lion hunting has had a significant negative impact on the number of lions, rapidly decimating their population in Africa. Realizing the impact Maasai traditions were having on the lion population, they decided to change their culture for the better in 2012. WATCH: The Hunt for Medals, not Lions : The First Maasai Olympics. Source: The Big Life Foundation

Replacing Hunting for Lions with Hunting for Medals 

Rather than focusing their efforts on hunting lions, the Maasai people made the transition to focusing on sport competitions, creating the Maasai Olympics in 2012. The Maasai Olympics is an organised Maasai sports competition based upon traditional warrior skills.

It allows young men to compete for recognition, express their bravery, help identify future leaders, and to impress women. It was first held in 2012, was a raging success, and the event has continued to grow over the past few years. “In truth, this program is very successful, and we are now doing something honourable. We used to celebrate lion hunting, but this program has shown us a better celebration,” says Iltuati, Maasai Warrior, Amboseli-Tsavo Ecosystem. 

 Here are the highlights from the first event:

  • It was first held on December 22, 2012
  • It was first held in southern Kenya
  • 25 athletes from 4 warrior villages in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem participated
  • The event is supported by the African Wildlife Foundation and local sponsors

The Events

There are six core events held as part of the Maasai Olympics. They are a combination of traditional running and throwing skill events, all skills that were previously used to hunt lions (running, herding, throwing). Events include:
  • Rungu throwing for accuracy
  • 200 meter sprint
  • Spear throwing for distance
  • 800 meter sprint
  • 5 kilometer run
  • High jump

Even though girls were not traditionally participants in lion hunting traditions, because of their role in the conservation of African lions and their support of warriors, competitions are now held for women on Olympics day.

Three Levels of Competition

While the Maasai Olympics takes place on a single day each year, it is actually a three phase event that plays out over the course of the year. Here are the three levels of competition

1. Local level competition: Warriors receives training in the events and compete to be selected to one of the four teams across the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem. As outlined on maasaiolympics.com, “Each will represent a warrior manyatta (village) that will host in aggregate 4000+ young men during their 12 to 15 years of warriorhood.”

2. Regional level competition: Teams compete against the other three manyattas of the ecosystem.

3. Olympics Day: This is the official Maasai Olympics event day. The events receive national coverage, and the event is attended by government, media, tourists and family. The four teams compete in six events for medals and prizes. The overall winners receive a trophy and prized bull.

Join Zawadee Mailing Lists

Read more

Back In Time: The Hadzabe People of Tanzania - A Photo Journey

Imagine a society with no warfare, no rules, no official leaders, no known history of famine and relatively no personal possessions; a place where people truly live in the here and now. Well, such a place still exists....

In northern Tanzania—in one of the harshest environments on the planet—live the Hadzabe people. The Hadzabe are a small indigenous ethnic group, numbering fewer than 1,000.

The Hadzabe are one of the few truly hunter-gatherer societies left in the world and are the last true nomads of Africa. They grow no food; have no livestock and almost no possessions. They have no calendars or clocks, or even permanent shelters. The Hadzabe speak a unique native language called Hadzane. It is not closely related to any other that still exists. The language is filled with sounds, such as tongue clicks, that are so different from most languages. The language doesn’t have words for numbers past three or four. Amazingly, this little cultural pocket of the world is little changed from 10,000 years ago.

Living off the Land - The Hadzabe live around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley and in the Serengeti Plateau. In this hot, dry harsh terrain there is a shortage of fresh water and, for an outsider, food may not seem plentiful, but for the Hadzabe their home is filled with everything they need. It’s estimated that the Hadzabe spend about four to six hours a day actively pursuing food.

The women collect berries and baobab fruit, while the men collect honey and hunt. Men use a bow and arrow to hunt. The bows are made out of animal tendons, and the arrows are dipped in a poison made from local plants. The poison on the arrowheads is potent enough to kill a giraffe. Men usually hunt alone, but sometimes when they’re hunting larger prey, such as a baboon, they’ll go as a group. Their kills are brought back to the camp, where they are shared with everyone. Sometimes, if the kill is especially large, the whole camp will move to the carcass to feast. It’s not just food that the Hadzabe get from the land.

They also know where to get water from trees, how to make various medicines from plants and they still make fire by rubbing sticks together.

A Dangerous Life - Although the thought of not being burdened by too many possessions and rules may be appealing to some, the Hadzabe do not live what most of us would consider an easy life. They face constant dangers. About 1/5 of all babies die before reaching their first birthday, and almost one-half of children don’t make it to age fifteen. In addition to the extreme heat and lack of drinking water, the Hadzabe must contend with poisonous spiders and scorpions, black mamba snake bites, malaria, and of course the many large animals that would make a quick meal of a human.

The Ever-Creeping Outside World - While there are roughly 1,000 people who are identified as Hadzabe, today only around 300 of them live the traditional lifestyle. As with many indigenous groups, the outside world has slowly encroached upon the Hadzabe.

By some estimates, they have lost as much as 90% of their homeland. There are now even dirt roads at the edges of their land. Some Hadzabe are learning to speak Swahili to communicate with other groups in the area, and there are even a handful of Hadzabe people who speak English. The double-edged sword of tourism is another outside influence that cannot be ignored. Hopefully those who are fortunate enough to visit with the Hadzabe people will do so responsibly and be influential in helping to protect their ancient way of life.

View The Hadzabe through the revealing lens of Aliakber 'aZh' Zoeb and benefit from a 15% pre-release discount for our Zawadee Insiders & Facebook fans. Available in a variety of different sizes and choices of media (paper, canvas, etc.), Ali's photographs are powerfully unique elements for any home or office décor.

Zawadee - Bring Africa Home is pleased to announce that we now represent the esteemed photographer - Ali 'aZh' Zoeb a renowned Tanzanian fashion, editorial and lifestyle photographer.

Valued as one of Tanzania's best fashion photographers, Ali's passion for portraiture sings out in his photographic series of The Hadzabe - Living in the Here & Now.
Join Zawadee Mailing Lists

Read more

Living On The Brink: The Omo Valley Tribes of Ethiopia

The Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia is as picturesque as it comes. Hills, mountains, rivers, graceful waterfalls, jungles and numerous exotic wild animals and plants all converge in this one area. The grand Omo River snakes through the region emptying in Lake Turkana at the Kenyan border.

The earliest known discovery of human fossil fragments was found in the lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana (which is mostly in Kenya). With this precious discovery, the area was declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Nestled in this beautiful setting are 15 tribal groups living in the hills and the banks along the Omo River. It’s estimated that over 200,000 tribal people call the Omo Valley home. In this isolated corner of the world, these tribes have lived for centuries developing their own distinct and rich customs. Each tribe has different body markings, clothing, hairstyles and beliefs. 

The Tribes - A diverse group of people live in the Omo Valley. But the various tribes in the region do share some commonalities, such as their reliance on the Omo River as an essential resource. Most tribes rely on the annual flooding of the river. Cattle, goats and sheep are also essential to most of the tribes’ livelihoods. For the tribes, traditions are important and many involve some sort of body adornment or fancy headdress.


Here are some traditions of the Omo Valley tribes:
  • The Mursi: The Mursi’s traditions include body painting, decorative scarring and piercing. Some Mursi women still hold onto the tradition of piercing and then slowly stretching their lower lip with a clay plate, up to 18cm (7in) wide. The lip plate is done to attract a spouse. There are few mirrors around so boys usually paint one another with elaborate designs. Mothers paint their babies, so the traditions start young.
  • The Suri Tribe: The Suri use flora and fauna for decoration. They make elaborate head ornaments from leaves and branches.
  • The Karo Tribe: The Karo paint their bodies and faces with white chalk to prepare for ceremonies. They sometimes wear face masks and clay hair buns with feathers stuck into them. The women sometimes scar their chests, believing it makes them beautiful. Men also scar themselves, representing an enemy or dangerous animal they’ve killed.
  • The Hamar Tribe (also known as the Hammer or Hamer): The Hamar people wear colorful bracelets and beads in their hair. Some women wear circular wedge necklaces to show they are married. Men wear hair ornaments to represent a kill of an enemy or animal. Men also paint themselves with white chalk for ceremonies.


Join Zawadee Mailing Lists


Outside Influences - There are no written languages or calendars among the tribes, but they’re not immune from outside influences. Today, as a result of recent conflicts in Sudan, nearly every family in the Omo Valley owns an automatic weapon—an AK47 being the weapon of choice. Perhaps most alarmingly, the tribes’ very way of life may be threatened by the Gibe III dam—a controversial hydro-electric dam set to open later this year. Salini Costruttori, an Italian construction company, began work on the dam in 2006. The US $1.8 billion project is about 90% complete.

The dam is expected to more than double the electrical output in Ethiopia to about 1870 Megawatts. In addition to the almost completed dam project, others are encroaching on tribal lands. In 2011, the Ethiopian government began to lease sections of the Lower Omo region to large Malaysian, Italian, Indian and Korean companies. Sugar and cotton plantations are springing up in the area, all of which are eating up precious tribal land. Tribal grain stores and cattle grazing land are being destroyed and some tribes are even being forced into resettlement areas. Obviously these are complex issues where the rights of all Ethiopians must be balanced, but someone must look out for the more vulnerable groups in the area. Fortunately, international and domestic efforts are underway to protect the precarious way of life for the tribal people in the Omo Valley. Hopefully their efforts to preserve these fascinating cultures won’t be too late. 

Try our Ethiopian Micro-Lot Coffee - Small Batches, Single-Origin

Micro Lot Single Origin Coffee
Read more

The Himba of Namibia

In the harsh desert environment of the Kunene region in Namibia, live the Himba People. Despite the modern world creeping ever closer, the Himba have resisted change and preserved their own identity and rich culture. 

On the Move: A Way of Life - Today, the Himba Tribe numbers about 30-50,000 people. They are closely related to the Herero people and speak the language of Otijihimba, a dialect of the Herero language. The Himba people are semi-nomadic, so are often on the move. As a result, they don’t have a lot of possessions. They breed cattle and goats, which are essential to their livelihood, and must move constantly with their herds to new watering places. Their homes are simple round structures, plastered in mud and dung. The roles within the Himba community are gender-defined. The women typically do more of the labor-intensive work. Women carry the water to the village; they build their houses and tend to the livestock. Women also raise the children in the tribe. Men handle the political tasks of their community, including legal issues, but economic issues are usually decided by the women. When a girl is born, her future husband is decided. They are then married when the girl is between 14 and 17 years old. Interestingly, polygamy is allowed for both men and women.

A Distinctive Appearance  - You many not recognize the name, Himba, but you’ve likely seen photographs of people from the tribe. Both men and women go topless and wear lots of leather jewelry.

 But it’s the women’s appearance that is so remarkable. Himba women slather a paste, called otjize, which is made of butter, fat and red ochre, on their skin and hair each morning. The paste gives them a distinctive red hue. It can take hours to apply the paste and to get their elaborate hairstyles just right. The intricate hairstyles include bits of woven hay, goat hair, and sometimes even hair extensions. Appearance is full of meaning for the Himba people. Before puberty, girls have only two hair braids (twins have only one braid each), but get more as they age. After a year of marriage or following the birth of their first child, Himba women add an elaborate animal skin or headdress to their hairstyle. Single men have only one large braid growing backwards from the crown of their head. After they’re married, men stop cutting their hair and wrap it up in a turban. They never remove the turban except for funerals. And after a death, they shave their head.

Western fashion is beginning to creep in to the Himba world, but only with the men. Women are still fiercely proud of their distinctive traditional appearance.


Customs - Spirituality is important to the Himba people. They worship the god Mukuru and their ancient ancestors. An important role in the tribe is that of the fire-keeper, called the “okuruwo.” He is responsible for keeping the family ancestral fire burning. Every 7-10 days, people use the fire to communicate with Mukuru or their ancestors. The village chief has the only house that faces the fire. The Himba people also enjoy traditional music and dancing. A popular instrument is a musical bow, called an ohuta.

Tough Times - The 1980’s brought difficult times to the Himba people. In addition to the always harsh physical environment they live in, war and severe drought visited their homeland. During this time, some people left for Angola, some men joined the South African Army and others poured into the town of Opuwo for relief food. There, harsh poverty forced the Himba people into crowded cardboard settlements—a very different life than they were used to. These harsh times almost completely decimated their way of life. Around 90% of Himba cattle died, according to an article in National Geographic.

Resurgence - The 1990’s brought a return of peace and much-needed rain to the area. The Himba people were able to rebuild their depleted herds, and return to their way of life. There have also been recent efforts to give more local control to the Himba people, through local conservancies. Impressively, despite the ever-encroaching outside world, the Himba people have been able to hold onto a way of life that has been relatively unchanged since the 16th century.

Cover Photo Source: David Siu, Ovahima Mother & Child


Subscribe to Zawadee Newsletter

Read more

The Tigray of Ethiopia & Eritrea

Keepers of the Ark of the Convenant?  The Ark of the Convenant was venerated in the First Temple of Jerusalem during the reign of Solomon (circa 970-930). Then, it vanished!!

For centuries, Ethiopian Christians have claimed that the Ark of the Covenant is housed in a chapel in the town of Aksum, located in the northern highlands of the Tigray state. The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum allegedly houses the original Ark of the Covenant.

They claim it arrived about 3,000 years ago and has been closely guarded by anointed monks who are forbidden to ever set foot outside the chapel grounds. The majority of the Tigray people are located in Tigray state in Ethiopia, although some reside in Eritrea. The regions they occupy are, for the most part, a high plateau, separate from the Red Sea by an escarpment and a desert. Most of the Tigray people place a high value on their verbal skills. Therefore, poetry, riddles, tales and puns are part of Tigray entertainment. In fact, they engage in the art of "poetic combat". Many heroic figures in Tigray folklore are known for their skill and the clever ability they had to compose poetic couplets. Tekle Haymanot, an Ethiopian Saint, (pictured below) is reputed to have verbally outwitted the devil!

The Tigray and the Amhara people were converted to Christianity hundreds of years before most of Europe. The arrival of Christianity in Tigrayan lands is dated to about the same time as Christianity arrived in Ireland. The church is a very central feature of Tigray communities, most communities having a church with a patron saint. Most Tigray holidays are associated with the church calendar. Tigray art is also associated with the church. The church architecture alone is amazing with many churches cut into solid stone (as pictured below). Icon painting is also popular. 

They have a lovely way of greeting each other. As a sign of respect, a stranger may be greeted with "khamihaduru", which means "how are you, my honoured equal". Pretty nice, in our opinion! The Tigray don't consume much alcohol, certainly in the rural areas where the household beer that is brewed is low in alcohol content. Honey wine is also brewed but is usually reserved for special occasions. Most houses start out as "gujji", a practical, unassuming structure, with a thatched roof. Later, a family may add masonry walls and a domed roof. If very successful, stone walls may be added around the yard. As a matter of fact, guests often bring stones with them to be added to the walls. A charming practice and a sign of respect. Traditional clothing is white with very little embellishment. Men and women both wear a gabbi (a shawl like garment). Food is often a problem. There simply is rarely enough to go around. Many households receive government subsidies to compensate for lack of available food. Bread is an important staple and is often eaten with a spicy stew. Families and guests eat "messob" style (from a shared food basket), breaking off pieces of bread from the communal basket and dipping it into the stew which is placed in the centre of the basket..

Church music and praise songs are important to the Tigray. Church deacons may sing and accompany the voices with drums and a marroca-like, shaken instrument called at "sistrum". A game much like field hockey is played but in a cross-country manner! Some seriously sports-minded Tigray "grow" their own hockey sticks by training saplings into the desired curve. While like field hockey, the Tigray play across country - even through creeks and over fences! Now that's track and field combined with field hockey! The Tigray are a fascinating people, with interesting customs and traditions. Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.  

Subscribe to Zawadee Newsletter


Read more

The Yoruba of Sub-Saharan Africa

The Yoruba are excellent craftsmen and are held to be among the most skilled and productive of all of Africa. They produce remarkable leatherwork, glass, weaving, wood carving and blacksmithing. As the Yoruba tend to gather to live in densely populated urban areas, this allows for a centralization of wealth and for a market economy that supports patronage of the arts produced by this prolific group of craftspeople!

The music of the Yoruba people includes drumming, using a type of drum called a "dundun", which is an hourglass shaped tension drum. Folk music from Yoruba is probably the most widely recognized West African music and has widely influenced both Caribbean and Afro-Latin musical styles.


Due to the heinous slave trade, many people living in the United States are of Yoruba ancestry. Sadly, many of the Yoruba people taken from Benin, were actually sold to the slave traders by a King of Dahomey (in Whydah). Dahomey was an African kingdom which lasted from about 1600 until 1894, when the last chief Behanzin was defeated by the French and the country was annexed into the French colonial empire

The enslaved Yoruba people brought many traditions and cultural practices and languages with them. Their religious beliefs were firmly rooted in spirit and ancestor worship. Many enslaved Yoruba had tribal facial identification marks which unfortunately sometimes contributed to a slave owner being able to identify someone attempting to flee. Sadly, in the U.S. colonies, people of different ethnic groups were deliberately mixed together, making it more difficult for ethnic groups to communicate and to organize attempts at rebellion.

After the abolition of slavery in the United States, many modern era Nigerians have come to America. After the Biafran War, the Nigerian government funded scholarships and many Nigerian students were admitted to American universities. As well, many Nigerians left their country to escape the travails of several military coups interrupted by brief periods of civilian rule. The name "Yoruba" is fairly recent. Until the nineteenth century, the term Yoruba was used more to indicate that someone was a speaker of the Yoruba language than to indicate ethnicity. Europeans often referred to Yoruba as "Aku", which is a name that originated from the first words of Yoruba greetings like "E ku aaro". (We've left out the accent marks as our keyboard just doesn't have them!) Yoruba who ended up in Cuba (and influenced Cuban music beautifully), were called "Lucumi" as a result of the phrase "O luku mi" which means "my friend"! Isn't that lovely?

Creation Stories

One of the Yoruba creation views appears to be supported by historical fact. This version centres around the belief that a man named Oduduwa, who lived in Ile-Ife (held to be the site of the creation of humankind) had an extensive family who spread out to conquer other Yoruba people, achieving leadership status in other cities. Oduduwa's descendants eventually unified a way of life and tied the various cultural practices together.


Another version of the creation myth is that Olodumare (The Creator) sent Oduduwa to Ile-Ife to form humankind from the clay in the area. Ile-Ife is an ancient Yoruba city in southwestern Nigeria, located in the present day Osun State.

Pre-Colonial Era

As early as the year 1,000 C.E., the Yoruba people had an organized political system of town governments. While originally the Yoruba had occupied primarily a forest farming area, it became highly urbanized. The Yoruba's confederacy of towns was mainly to help keep the peace. At that time, kingdoms were thought of as being a large family and thrones were hereditary. Interesting to note that royal bloodlines didn't mean automatic inheritance of royal power! If any family member, servant or slave that belonged to the family committed a serious crime (theft, murder, rape), the eligible contender for the throne would not inherit. That would certainly encourage rules to carefully monitor their households and family! The Yoruba seem to have been very progressive. Some of their "city states" ignored royal lineage and instead opted for an "elected monarchy" which was open to any free-born male citizen. Kings were often polygamous, seeking wives from other powerful royal families. After colonization of Nigeria by Great Britain, and the resultant influx of Christianity, many traditional Yoruba religious practices slowly dissolved away. The Yoruba are a fascinating group of people. Their traditional manners are so polite and respectful. When greeting an elder, for example, males bow and women curtsey. Their artwork and musical influences have reached far and wide. Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.

Subscribe to Zawadee Newsletter


Read more

The Mandingo of Sub-Saharan Africa

Referred to as Mandingo, Mandinka or Malinke, the Mandingo represent one of the largest ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa. Based primarily in West Africa, the population of Mandingo peoples is about 11 million. Spread across Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Cost, Chad and Niger, the Mandingo are thought to have links with the ancient Central Saharan lineage. Mandingo is a branch of the Mandé, which also includes ethno-lingual groups such as the Bozo, Bambara, Kpelle and Ligbi. 

The Mandingo people are purported to be descendants of the Mali Empire (1230 A.D. to 1600 A.D.) Some scholars think the Mandingo's roots go back even further - to the legendary ancient city of Djenné-Djenno (3rd century B.C.) The Mali Empire was established in the Senegambia region, deep in the heartland of West Africa. It is believed that they migrated there in the search for better agricultural lands and to expand their territory. More than half of the tribal group converted to Islam (from their indigenous pantheist belief structure) after reaching West Africa. Sadly, although the Mandingo people existed very nicely with the other settlers in the region, in the 15th century, Westerners arrived looking for human labour. The desire for farmland and the Industrial Revolution contributed to a period of slavery for the Mandingo.
Unfortunately, many Mandingo merchants were themselves involved in the transatlantic slave trade. It is difficult to understand, but many Mandingo were sold as slaves by their own people! As a result of the despicable slave trade, more than a third of the Mandingo population was sent to the Americas. This is why a large number of African-American people residing in the United States today are descendents of the Mandingo. The Mandingo culture is both spiritual and musical. Griots are well-known for their "praise singing" in which they tell stories, sing songs and proverbs. They are the keepers of oral tradition spanning centuries. Take a look at the video we've included below. This is a fascinating recounting by Imiuswi Aborigine ~ Prince Diabata - a griot musician from West Africa - of the history of the griot legacy and their long traditional of oral history.


Music also includes drumming and playing a unique instrument, called the "Kora", which has 21 strings and is made by hollowing out half of a large gourd and covering it with cow or goat skin. It looks pretty complex to us!

Clan society is patriarchal with many people living in family compounds in rural areas. The Mandingo have a natural bent for seeking autonomy and self-rule, incorporating leadership by a chief and a group of village elders. Their homes are largely centered along trade routes built by merchants known as "Dyulas", who supervise the overland, coastal and inland trading. Trading in rice, groundnuts (peanuts), corn and millet along with animals, the economy is labor-intensive.

Traditionally, marriages are arranged, particularly in rural areas. The family of the potential groom sends a gift of kola nuts to the male elders of the family of the potential bride. If the gift is accepted by the family of the bride, the courtship is then allowed to begin. Since their pre-Islamic days, the Mandingo have practiced polygamy, allowing a man to have up to four wives - only if he is able to care for each wife equally. The first wife has authority over subsequent wives and wives are expected to live communally, sharing responsibilities like cooking, laundry and house-keeping. The Mandingo people have an interesting history that can be traced back many centuries. Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General is of Mandingo ancestry. Don't miss any of our articles, blogs, updates or recipes! Sign up for email updates.

 Subscribe to Zawadee Newsletter

Read more