African Blackwood, or Mpingo, is one of finest carving and turnery timbers in the world. It was made famous by the carvings of the Makonde tribe of south eastern Tanzania and Mozambique.
One of the most famous styles is the Shetani or ‘spirit’ figures by Bernard Pius. With their contorted and ethereal appearance, these carvings depict human and ghost-like images. Artists show a huge amount of technical virtuosity and individual flair.
Many different styles have evolved in wood carving. Here we see the work of Hamedi Athumani.
And here we can see how the work of Lawi Moshi uses the natural qualities of Blackwood and beautifully incorporates the natural bends and turns of the timber.
This other Lawi Moshipiece, clearly shows the contrast between the lighter sap wood and the dark heartwood which typifies Blackwood .
The natural bendy shape of Blackwood enables talented carvers to morph it into a myriad of shapes and figures
In this piece, you can clearly see the contrast between the weathered outside of wood collected on riverbanks and the intact quality of its heartwood.
Carving employs thousands of people in East Africa, where it is vital to local livelihoods. In Kenya alone 200,000 people are employed by the carving industry with an estimated 400,000 dependents.
Mpingo is one of the most expensive timbers in the world.It is cut into blocks for export to the West where it is used to make musical instruments.However during this process 80 – 90% is wasted. This wood could be used in wood carving or turning.
The demand for Blackwood has lead to the exhaustion of commercial stocks in Kenya and much of northern Tanzania, where it was once commonly found.
The current rate of exploitation is unsustainable and will lead to the decimation of remaining Mpingo stocks in south eastern Tanzania and Mozambique.
Existing controls of the timber trade at the national level have failed, and it is estimated that as much as 90% of timber harvested in south eastern Tanzania is harvested illegally. Around 90% of timber cut in south eastern Tanzania is illegally felled.
When high value timber trees are logged out from an area, the economic value of the remaining forest is decreased. Areas that have been heavily exploited may then be logged to create charcoal from the remaining wood.
Mpingo’s habitat, Miombo woodland, is an important ecosystem which supports animals such as elephant, lion, buffalo and the endangered African wild dog . Along the East coast of Africa Miombo exists around patches of coastal forest.
East African coastal forest is one of the most threatened ecosystems in Africa. It contains a large number of endemic animal and plant species which occur nowhere else in the world. As a result of rapid deforestation rates, its unique flora and fauna face a bleak future.
The coastal communities who live in this area of Tanzania are some of the poorest in East Africa. Over one third of them live on less than US $1 a day.
When Mpingo is harvested from their land, local people receive a pittance for the expensive timbers. As a result both they and the forest suffer under the current status quo.
The Mingo Conservation Project (MCP) is an NGO that works with local communities in Kilwa District, south eastern Tanzania to improve forest management and the benefits from timber to local communities. Its staff are foresters, ecologists, development workers and livelihood specialists.
MCP works by promoting Participatory Forest Management (PFM) which gives local people greater control over their natural resources.
PFM encourages villagers to set aside village forest areas for future sustainable harvesting.
MCP aims to achieve Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in associated village forest areas by the end of 2008. FSC is an internationally recognised stamp of approval indicating that timber has been sustainably harvested and a fair price paid to its local custodians via an increased premium.
PFM and FSC certification means the that value of timber can increase by over100 times. This is huge economic incentive for conservation. The result?
Woodturners / woodcarvers can demand their suppliers source their wood ethically. • Tourists can buy small or high value carvings which reflect the true value of the timber used. .
BEFORE YOU LEAVE TODAY Please leave us your contact details on the sheet on the round table by the door so we can send you updates and information from MCP.See also:www.mpingoconservation.orgwww.sustainableblackwood.org
Woodturnings and carvings by: Allister Moon Bernard Pius Hamedi Athumani Lawi Moshi Photos by: Adele Marie Anne Marie Gregory Steve Ball Paul Harrison Kirstie Wielandt Andrew Gordon-Maclean
Asanteni! • Allister Moon • Rachel Kessi • Daniel Dickinson • Kirstie Wielandt
And thanks to…. The Ruhatwe music group, Ruhatwe village, Kilwa District for the music we have been listening to.