The Makonde Tribe


The Makonde are known worldwide for their artistic abilities. They are known as "the master carvers" throughout East Africa, and their artworks are sold to art collectors and in museums alike. They are especially known for their meticulous wood carving skills, designing each wood piece with a unique flair. They reside in what is now southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique. 

It is believed by most historians that the Makonde migrated to their current location in the 1700s and 1800s from the Ndonde area of northern Mozambique. By 1800, the Portuguese noted that the Mueda Plateau was being populated by Makonde.  There are likely health reasons that led the Makonde to settle on the plateau, such as malaria, flooding, and animal attacks.

Health reasons were not the only reason for their migration. The Ngoni, a people fleeing war in Zululand, began to raid the Makonde for land and slaves. The plateau with its thick bush protected the Makonde from slavery and war.

During WWI, the British took Tanzania, then called German East Africa, and renamed it Tanganika.  The Makonde also resisted British rule by not paying taxes or obeying their rulers. Famine struck in 1915 during the war. Many Makonde peoples died when they were struck by small pox and the Spanish Flu.

Another impactful event experienced by the Makonde is the Groundnut Scheme of 1947.  A British official decided to mass produce peanuts in Tanzania to feed into the oil market in Britain.  Many Makonde people were recruited to work on this project; they benefited some from the wages but there was drawback in crimes. They continued resistance (mostly non-violent) to British rule until Tanzania’s independence in 1964.

The Makonde are a matrilineal society.  Because of this, men live in the village of their wife’s family. Many men have several wives and this causes them to move between different villages. However, Makonde culture is increasingly male dominated as they have become wage earners.  This change has lessened the balance of power and caused, among other things, women to move to the villages of the men.




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