makonde, love, sex, tanzania, figure, moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark

Valentine’s Day Special: The Makonde figures

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Tomorrow being Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d showcase some of our more… shall we say… sexy artefacts: the sometimes racy and endlessly fascinating Makonde art.

Let us get a bit of background before we get to the saucy bits. The Makonde are an ethnic group who lives mainly in northern Mozambique and southeast Tanzania. They are most famous for their art, mainly masks and figures, often carved in dark wood and depicting strange and twisted creatures. These are the shetani; spirits of East African mythology. Shetani are often grotesque looking beings, sometimes a mix of human and animal, with gaping mouths, missing or too many limbs, distorted and frightening. They are usually malevolent and can spread great fear among people; such was the case on the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar in 1995, where the powerful shetani Popo Mbawa terrorised people as he paralysed and violated men and women in their beds.

However, the shetani also have another side to them, which is the reason why they are the unlikely subject of this Valentine’s blog. Mozambique artist Rashidi Bin Mohammed have crafted the two shetani couples, we have selected for you today, and he explains that he often sees shetani making love as he walks in the area around his home. One of the couples (ea845-7) are, describes Rashidi Bin Mohammed, looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. Meanwhile, the female in the other couple (ea845-42) is, somewhat less romantically, taking a firm hold on her lover’s most precious appendage while he is howling because he, in bin Mohammed’s words “doesn’t want to play anymore”.


So there, a bit of ethnographic hanky panky to get you through Valentine’s Day 2017.

//Sophie Seebach

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