TRIBAL AFRICAN ART
NYAMWESI (NYAMWEZI, NYAMEZI) (also see related Makonde and Zukuma)
The 500,000 Nyamwesi people, whose name means either "Men of the West" or "Men of the Moon", are the largest ethnic agrarian group in north-central Tanzania. Socially, they are organized into villages which correspond to small chiefdoms, and each chief is responsible for the material wealth of the village, while the spiritual welfare is governed by the village sorcerer. Ancestors and chiefs have been of considerable importance in the belief system and socio-political structure of the Nyamwesi, and consequently most of their art relates to these themes: theirs is one of the richest art traditions in Tanzania. The Nyamwesi produced chiefs thrones with a human figure carved in relief on the high back. Nyamwesi carvers are also famous for their figures that are usually carved out of a dark, heavy wood with a shiny surface. They tend to have strongly elongated features, and the eyes inset with circular colored bids. Such elongated figures with distorted limbs were used in water divination ceremonies. Since the 1950s the slim figures were displayed by Nyamwesi dance troupes to enhance the visual impact of their performances.