The History and Use of African Makonde Masks



Makonde Muti Wa Lipiko Helmet Mask, Tanzania… |  African art, South african art, African sculptures

Inhabiting the southeast of Tanzania and the northeast of Mozambique are nearly 500,000 Makonde (pronounced mah-CONE-day), divided into matrilineal clans, each one comprising several villages. Decisions are made by a chief supported by a council. Clan members only meet for the ancestral cult and to celebrate initiations of the adolescents into adulthood. This is where masks play an important part in the Makonde culture. The most important carving used in initiation ceremonies was the lipiko (or mapiko) mask, which was worn over the top of the head, tilted back so the wearer could look out through the mouth. The masks often represent ancestral spirits, or occasionally animals. It was believed that the ancestors came back masked in order to express their joy at the successful achievement of initiation. Their presence is believed to be proof of the close bonds that exist between the living and the dead. During initiation ceremonies an orchestra of drummers accompanies a group of dancers wearing the masks. The faces of the masks are often scarified. The Makonde are known for scarification of the body originally to prevent being taken as slaves. While this is no longer practiced many of the older people among the Makonde still bear the markings on their face and bodies. Get your own Makonde mask on the Africa Imports web site.