Tanzania  (Africa)

Tanzania. The Makonde are an ethnic group in south-east Tanzania and northern Mozambique. They are well known to their carvings of traditional household objects, figures and masks. Their chess sets are very recognizable with the headdress King, Queen and Bishops have, the giraffe as Knight and the traditional hut as Rook. Sets are mostly heads only, but busts or whole bodies exist as well. Well known are sets where the pawns are pipe smoking or drumming tribesmen, but such are not in my collection. Other beloved themes are birds and apes.

The dark woods used are ebony or Grenadill, which is also called M'pingo (in Tanzania) or African blackwood (scientific name: Dalbergia melanoxylon). The latter is even heavier as ebony and is often confused with it. One light-coloured wood used, as is told to me, could be Quercus ilex. But that is a wood growing in South-Europe and not in Africa as far as I know. So I doubt that the info about that kind of wood is correct. Sometimes the light-coloured pieces are said made of African whitewood (scientific name: Triplochiton scleroxylon), but that is a wood from Western Africa. So I doubt that as well.

If you have a set then it is hard to know the origin. For some sets here I made a best guess. Some say that the sets from Mozambique are better carved as sets from Tanzania. At least do they have more decoration. I'm not that convinced about that theory. See Mozambique page.

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  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1960-1980
  • Wood K 7.2; p 5.2
  • Cassette 32.2×4-.6×3.2
« of 4 »
  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1970
  • Ivory + African blackwood K 9.4; p 6.2
  • Board 43.7×38.9
« of 3 »
  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1970
  • Wood K 7.2+7.9; p 5.1-5.6
« of 3 »
  • Tanzania, Dar-es-Salaam, by Makonde
  • 1973
  • Wood K 10.7; p 7.8
« of 2 »

Note the reversed headdress of King and Bishop!

  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1975
  • Quercus ilex? + ebony K 8.1; p 5.6

Tanzania. Some sets with birds ans ape motives. The 1st set has dark Queen, Bishop and one pawn in African blackwood, all other dark pieces in ebony.

« of 5 »
  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1980
  • Quercus ilex? + ebony/African blackwood K 6.2; p 4.9
« of 7 »
  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1980
  • Quercus ilex? + ebony K 8.4; p 4.1
  • Board Ø 35.5
  • Tanzania, by Makonde
  • 1980
  • Quercus ilex? + ebony K 6.2; p 3.9