Art from East Africa is a reflection of the various communities dotting the region, and the diverse cultures and traditions that each holds. The ancient trade between the tribes situated at the eastern African coast and the Arabs brought forth strong foreign influences that made East African art more distinct.
The huge foreign influence on East African art is highly evident in the different religions that some of the tribes have adopted. The construction of various houses of worship in extraordinary facades and architectural styles has eventually spread throughout the region. Having embraced Christianity for centuries, some impressive Ethiopian churches have been carved out of solid massive boulders in Lalibela in the 12th century. Among the most distinguished East African art work is the beautiful murals in the Church of Saint George which in itself is a superb masterpiece.
The religions in these parts of Africa have also crafted many sacred East African art objects like masks and statues that are used in ritual initiations, sacred ceremonies, death, and marriage. In Kenya, the ethnic group known as Mijikenda carves and erects wooden poles to commemorate the dead. The male leaders of the tribe use these poles as a medium to continually keep contact with great men who are already dead. In Malawi, the male initiations conducted by the Chewa make use of a large collection of masks.
Many of the ethnic groups in eastern Africa, including Turkana of Tanzania, Masai of Kenya and Somali of Somalia, lead a partially nomadic existence—seasonally moving to be able to herd livestock to richer pastures. This way of life made way for crafts that can easily be packed and transported from one place to another. Among these nomadic East African art are headrests made out of intricately carved wood; finely-patterned baskets; and wooden drinking vessels of different designs, shapes and sizes.
A common East African art that most tribes in this region share is their elaborate and beautifully patterned beadwork. Colorful beads are vital components in the body adornment of the Masai, Turkana and other Eastern ethnic groups. These vibrantly hued materials are created into accessories, jewelries or used as ornaments embroidered into their exotic clothing, and even tediously incorporated into complex hairstyles. The different styles and designs of this East African art symbolize differences in age, gender and social status between tribal members, feats in war for men and marital status and number of children for women.
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