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 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.
About the Artists and the CanvasFamily 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!
Commonly referred to as one of the great wonders of the world, the migration of African wildlife over the Serengeti is one of the most beautiful things to see in Africa.
The Serengeti wildebeest migration is a movement of vast numbers. The wildebeest are accompanied by large numbers of zebra, gazelle, eland and impala along their journey. The groups of animals move in a similar pattern throughout the year, making it a continual process as they are constantly looking for fresh land to graze and high quality water sources.
Zebras are African equids, related to the horse family. Their distinctive black and white coats come in different patterns unique to each individual zebra. Zebras are a social herd animal but, unlike their close relatives - horses and donkeys - have never been domesticated.
Wildlife is frequently the subject of African artwork and crafts, as in these lovely
The Wildebeest Migration: An Animation
We think you'll enjoy this great animated representation of the migration patterns of the Wildebeest by Go2Africa Safaris. If you have an interest in Africa (and safaris!) subscribe to the Go2Africa YouTube channel. Lots of great videos and top notch information.
The Wildebeest Migration by the Numbers
- 1.4 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 350,000 gazelle migrate in a clockwise fashion.
- The migrating wildlife travel 1,800 miles each year in search of rain-ripened grass.
- Wildebeest calving occurs late January through mid-March when over 80% of the female wildebeest give birth over a period of a few weeks. An estimated 400,000 wildebeest calves are born during this period.
Migration Is Dynamic and Different Each Year
One of the common assumptions about the migration patterns of the Serengeti is they follow a circular route and are always moving forward. This is not the case. Migration patterns are not always a continuously forward motion in the same direction. Directions and patterns change frequently, something that makes seeing the migration in person somewhat of a challenge. According to Ultimate Africa Safaris, “They go forward, backwards, and to the sides; they mill around, they split up, they join forces again, they walk in a line, they spread out, or they hang around together. You can never predict with certainty where they will be; the best you can do is suggest likely timing based on past experience. You can never guarantee the Migration one hundred percent.”
This adds to the allure of the migration. It’s a dynamic process, and no two years are ever the same. National Geographic has produced a wonderful video which explains The Serengeti Migration beautifully. “In reality, there is no such single entity as ‘the migration.’ The wildebeest are the migration – there is neither start nor finish to their endless search for food and water, as they circle the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in a relentless sequence of life and death. The only beginning is the moment of birth” says acclaimed East African author and photographer, Jonathan Scott.
The migratory animals do not go unchallenged during the migration. There is no shortage of African carnivores that eagerly anticipate the presence of wildebeest. Predators such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and many others eagerly await the migration each year.
Phases of the Wildebeest Serengeti MigrationThere are four main phases of the wildebeest Serengeti migration:
- Phase 1 (February – March) This is the birthing period, with all pregnant mothers giving birth over a few weeks’ period.
- Phase 2 (April – June) The wildebeest head west toward the bush land of Grumeti Reserve.
- Phase 3 (July – September) The wildebeest head north toward Maasai Mara in Kenya to open plains.
- Phase 4 (October – January) The wildebeest head back south slowly toward the birthing area to start the cycle over again.
“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 MovementThere are a number of ways to get involved with the Green Belt Movement and support this great cause:
Visit The Green Belt Movement online for more information about how to donate.
Each year, millions of Serengeti wildebeests migrate across the African continent. But they are not the only ones. A number of different groups of animals move throughout Africa in a similar pattern each year, with the goal being to find water to drink and land to graze. Zebras are one of the largest of the secondary groups that are part of the Serengeti migration each year. In fact, more than 200,000 zebras participate in this amazing journey each year!
About African Zebras
Zebras are African equids and are relatives of the horse family. They are easily identifiable by their black and white striped coat. Even though zebras may look the same, each zebra actually has a unique pattern. Like many other African animals, they are a social herd of animals, sticking together naturally, something that also helps them ward off predators such as lions, hyenas and many others.
Zebras Migrate Based on Environmental Factors
As outlined on eyesonafrica.net, zebras (and other African animals) “do not follow a calendar schedule, rather, they follow cues from the environment to tell them when the rains have reached an area and they then move there to take advantage of the fresh growth of grasses. The migration timing and pattern varies year to year.” The great news is that you can experience the migration of zebras in person. Imagine being able to see thousands of zebras congregated in the same place, grazing, caring for their young, and seeing many different African animals interact in their natural habitat. It would be a trip you won’t soon forget!
Longest Migration Among African Mammals
National Geographic recently published a story that found, “A population of zebras surprised biologists by making a more than 300-mile beeline across parts of Namibia and Botswana—the longest big-mammal migration ever documented in Africa.” While this migration has been observed during consecutive years, it is still not of the scale of the Serengeti Migration, as it involved only a few thousand zebras. However, “the animals cover more than 300 miles (500 kilometers) in a straight-line, up-and-back journey across Namibia and Botswana. (In the Serengeti, the animals meander more before circling back, so their feet touch more ground, but the distance between the zebras' two destinations is greater.)”
Why Wildebeests and Zebras Migrate TogetherAfrican travel experts have identified four main reasons why zebras tend to migrate with wildebeests:
Since wildebeests are short grass grazers, and zebras tend to shear off long grass, zebras essentially cut the grass in new areas, allowing wildebeests to pick up the tailings.
Zebras have better eyesight and hearing, essentially acting as an alarm for wildebeests when predators approach.
Wildebeests have the ability to “smell” water, making them an ideal travelling partner for zebras.
Zebras tend to have better memories and are more cautious travellers, something that helps wildebeests identify and fend off potential dangers.
Please help us to help species at riskPlease remember that Zawadee donates 2% of all sales of our African Wildlife products (carvings, sculptures, masks, etc.) to the World Wildlife Fund and The Jane Goodall Institute.
African carvings have become very popular décor items in recent years. With people taking more of an interest in global art forms, and with the rise in popularity of abstract sculptures, this type of art is popping up in homes, offices and galleries across North America.
A particular type of African carving that is particularly alluring are handmade soapstone carvings from Kenya. While soapstone has been used for years as a carving material, it is the Kisii stone that is most desirable.
Origins of Soapstone Carvings by the Kisii
The stone is named after the Kisii people of the Tabaka Hills in western Kenya—the only place it is found in the region. The soapstone is a metamorphic rock that consists of the mineral talc. Also commonly referred to as steatite, it is known for being soft and easy to work with. While the stone was primarily used for domestic purposes such as basketry and pottery, it is now used to create handmade carvings for export. The Kisii people originally used soapstone to carve pots to carry fat, which was later massaged into the skin for protection against the sun and other elements. For many families, these soapstone carvings are their primary source of income as they sell their work in malls, galleries, markets and shops across Kenya.
Kisii Stone Stone - has become preferred by local artisans because of its softness and ease of carving. It occurs in a number of beautiful natural colours ranging from a light cream to black as well as yellows, red, lavender and grey. The color is dependent on the minerals present in the soapstone. The soapstone is used to create both functional items and works of art.
It’s used to carve:
- Trays and plates
- Bowls and pots
- Decorative sculptures
While carvings traditionally feature animal figures such as elephants, rhinos and other African wildlife, carvers today also create contemporary abstract figures, bookends, candle holders, and many other figurines
The Soapstone Carving ProcessThe carving process is quite involved, and it often includes multiple people. Here are the steps involved in crafting soapstone carvings:
- Mining: Local miners dig a large pit by hand, about 50-75 feet in diameter, using picks and shovels. Heavy machinery is not used.
- Selection: Not all stone that is mined is used for the carvings. The miners sort the stone and select high quality materials for the carvings. Selected materials are then immersed in water to make it easier to carve.
- Carving: Carving is done by hand using a variety of tools such as knives, machetes, chisels, and files. Carvings are most frequently done by experienced carvers, with younger carvers often observing and practising their skills to refine their expertise.
- Sanding: The carved soapstone is washed and smoothed using sandpaper. This is most commonly done by women. Multiple grades of sandpaper are used to achieve the proper finish.
- Decoration: Depending on the type of piece being crafted, the piece is either left in its natural state, or it is decorated by adding color and design elements.
- Polishing: The final step is treating and polishing using oils, creating a professional finish and a shine that brings out other subtle features of the carvings.
Entire families are commonly involved in the soapstone carving process. Men perform the carving and shape the piece. Men or women perform the sanding tasks, and then women do the washing, drying, waxing, and polishing to give the soapstone carving its glossy finish.