Art and Life Among the Zaramo of Tanzania

by Diane Pelrine
Indiana University Art Museum

A grave marker, Zaramo peoples, Tanzania. Photo by Diane Pelrine.

The earliest Western reports about the Zaramo, which date to the mid-nineteenth century, do mention some figural sculpture: wooden grave figures, though the styles of the figures seem to have varied greatly.  Placed on the graves of anyone whose families could afford them, the figures were meant as a way to honor the deceased and as a remembrance of the deceased for the living.  This figure was photographed in a cemetery in 1985 and was one of the last surviving sculptures there.  As a result of Islam and literacy, people are now more likely to use markers containing pieces of broken ceramics (a Swahili custom) or markers with the deceaseds' names on them.