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The Nyamwezi people, whose name means ‘Men of the West’ or ‘Men of the Moon’, are the largest ethnic group in 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. The cult of ancestors, which protects each family, and also the chiefs have been of considerable importance in the belief system and socio-political structure of the Nyamwezi, and consequently most of their art relates to these themes.
Nyamwezi carvers are famous for their figures, which are usually carved out from a heavy wood with a shiny surface. They tend to have elongated features with the eyes inset with circular white beads. Such elongated figures with distorted limbs were used in water divination ceremonies.These slender elegant male and female figures are appreciated not only by collectors but also by interior designers. These features are reminiscent of sculptures created by the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti who must have been inspired by them.
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