Makonde - Society

More information on any aspect of Makonde society would be most welcome.
In this page:
Family and Marriage


Politically, a Makonde village is an independent unit, with few ties to other villages or to the Makonde community as a whole. Each village has its hereditary chief, but there is no overall Makonde ruler. The headman is advised by a council of elders.
   This simple self-contained social structure, together with the relative geographical isolation of the Makonde in Mozambique, gave rise to a strong sense of ethnic identity, which has persisted to the present day, even in the small Kenyan community. Here in Kenya, relations with the neighbouring Taita and Taveta people are good, and although there has been a limited amount of intermarrying (with Taita living down in the plains), they have as far as I can tell kept their original identity almost completely intact.

Makonde female initiation ceremony Makonde woman wearing lip-plug Masked Makonde dancers


More information on Makonde religion and beliefs would be most welcome

Despite having been in contact with Muslim traders for centuries, few Makonde converted to Islam, and instead still practice their original religion (in fact, the Muslim presence in East Africa has invariably been tolerant of other beliefs, in abrupt contrast to the 'spiritual warfare' waged by Christian missionaries).
   Their beliefs centre around the veneration of ancestors, who can cause both evil if neglected, and can help in bring rain in times of drought.



Family and Marriage

In keeping their creation myth, the Makonde reckon descent matrilineally. The myth possibly also points to to a formerly matriarchal society, and even today motherhood is considered quasi-sacred, and honoured as a cult. Traditionally, when men went alone on journeys, they would carry a female figure with them for protection.

Polygyny is common; the first marriage necessitates paying a brideprice to the bride's family.

Pestle and mortar (Tanzania)
Image: Lisa Christoffersen; reprinted by permission.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle - fine art photography