In Step with the Times — 2014

Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique

By Paolo Israel

“Countless authors have written about Mapiko, invariably contributing to its mythologization. But none have accomplished what Paolo Israel has, namely to produce a cultural history of Mapiko — including its plastic elements (the masks worn by Mapiko dancers) as well as its performative elements (dance, drumming, and lyrics). For this alone, Dr. Israel’s work is worth reading.”

Harry West, professor of anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

“Marked by extensive fieldwork and deep understanding of Makonde culture and language, this pioneering study emphasizes the importance of performance to understand the famous masked dance culture of the Makonde of Mozambique, especially the dynamic, changing nature of Makonde masking as it regularly reinvented itself in response to the shifting historical context.”

Edward A. Alpers, University of California, Los Angeles

In Step with the Times is a groundbreaking book in African studies, important for all students of memory, performance, and visuality. Paolo Israel shows how nonverbal memories—as experienced in mapiko performances—are an essential part of people’s sense of collective belonging.”

Bogumil Jewsiewicki

Show all quotes

The helmet-shaped mapiko masks of Mozam­bique have garnered admiration from African art scholars and collectors alike, due to their striking aesthetics and their grotesque allure. This book restores to mapiko its historic and artistic context, charting in detail the transformations of this masquerading tradition throughout the twentieth century.

Based on field research spanning seven years, this study shows how mapiko has undergone continuous reinvention by visionary individuals, has diversified into genres with broad generational appeal, and has enacted historical events and political engagements. This dense history of creativity and change has been sustained by a culture of competition deeply ingrained within the logic of ritual itself. The desire to outshine rivals on the dance ground drives performers to search for the new, the astonishing, and the topical. It is this spirit of rivalry and one-upmanship that keeps mapiko attuned to the times that it traverses.

In Step with the Times is illustrated with vibrant photographs of mapiko masks and performances. It marks the most radical attempt to date to historicize an African performative tradition.


Paolo Israel is a senior lecturer in history at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. He has written extensively about Mozambican expressive cultures, political ethnicity, and witchcraft.

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Language
  • Introduction: Rhythms of Change
  • Part One
    Directions
    • Chapter 1: The War of Sexes
      The Colonial Library and Its Afterlife
    • Chapter 2: Passage, Secrecy, Rivalry
      An Excursion into Anthropological Theory
  • Part Two
    Cosmopolitanism (1917–62)
    • Chapter 3: Meat Is Meat
      Modernism in the Aftermath of Slavery
    • Chapter 4: Masters of Play
      Late-Colonial Aesthetics and Practice
    • Chapter 5: Lowland Nights
      Ambivalence in the Face of Death
    • Chapter 6: Migrant Tunes
      On the Threshold of Nationalism
  • Part Three
    Revolution (1962–92)
    • Chapter 7: Ten Years of War
      Shaping the People
    • Chapter 8: Youth Power
      Villages, Festivals, and Rivals
    • Chapter 9: Faceless Spirits
      The Rise and Fall of Feminist Masquerades
  • Part Four
    After Socialism (1992–2009)
    • Chapter 10: Don’t Go Astray
      Democracy and Disorder
    • Chapter 11: Puppets and Machetes
      Boys in a Wild World
  • Epilogue: Resurrections
  • Notes
  • Glossary of Shimakonde Terms
  • Mapiko Genres and Other Dance Genres
  • Makonde Drums and Other Musical Instruments
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Photo Gallery

Videos