Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

In Step with the Times
Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique

By Paolo Israel

In Step with the Times
Mapiko Masquerades of Mozambique

By Paolo Israel

“[This is] a study
 in great depth of the historiography of older mapiko masquerading in Mozambique, and an intricately woven social history of twentieth-century Makonde masking forms. … Israel brings to light a wealth of detail on the ways in which masking has changed over time and in a variety of social and historical circumstances. … An important contribution to the literature on African masquerades and performance.”

African Arts

“The book reconstructs a history that has gone largely unwritten, achieving a panoramic vision of the simultaneously embedded and independent trajectory of mapiko…It is destined to become a classic for its unparalleled assembly of rich and detailed ethnographic data … Israel’s analysis opens lines of sight onto how longstanding dynamics of social interaction in southeast and east-central Africa…adapted to and helped shape the path of colonial rule in northern Mozambique. This is important and exciting history.”

American Historical Review

“All readers will be mesmerised by Israel’s attention to detail, ability to flesh out the mood of each period under study, and explanation of how the Makonde represented that mood and what was going on in their daily lives through the characters they brought to life through mapiko.”


“…Both innovative and liberating…Israel has produced a remarkably well-written, thoroughly researched, and fantastically valuable book vividly detailing ongoing transmogrifications of the persistent cultural tradition(s) of mapiko. …The book deserves a much wider readership than those interested in performance, political history, and memory in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Canadian Journal of History

The helmet-shaped mapiko masks of Mozamxadbique 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.   More info →


Introduction: “Rhythms of Change”

Video: “Nshindo, Nakitenge, carving masks, 2003”

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Language
  • Introduction: Rhythms of Change
  • Part One
    • 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

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New African Histories




Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: June 2014
296 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: June 2014
296 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for In Step with the Times

“In this beautifully crafted analysis of mapiko performances, Paolo Israel interweaves the history of Mozambique with close readings of hundreds of song lyrics and detailed microhistories of events and individuals that gave rise to this performance tradition. … Those interested in how and why performance matters will find much of value in this superb text and accompanying video and audio materials on the companion website.”

Journal of African History

“Paolo Israel’s exciting work, constructing the oral history of a masquerade genre against a backdrop of radical social change, is a virtuoso performance that brings together the insights drawn from intensive oral history research and a critical eye for the use and misuse of anthropological theory…This book is a trove of material to be explored by students of masking or other forms of popular performance.”


In Step with the Times not only produces a cultural history of the Makonde in which mapiko masquerading plays a vital part, but also draws attention to oral history as collective memory. It is after all this shared recollection and celebration which fuel the revival that keeps older forms of mapiko alive in contemporary genres which, as shown by Israel, serve as performative archives.”

Marie Kruger, South African Theatre Journal

“The insights, humour and rich linguistic material throughout In Step with the Times fuel that amazing rush one gets when reading a truly exceptional work. Israel…cleverly guides us through layers upon layers of history, change, invention and reinvention in the creative artistry, choreography, songs and performances of scores of groups and hundreds of people over a broad region, both on and off the Makonde plateau. It is truly a tour de force.”

Canadian Journal of Africa Studies

“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

“A mesmerising journey into a world of ever evolving rural community consciousness, where athletics becomes aesthetics, rivalry reappears as revelry, critique chameleonises itself into celebration and magic, masquerade and materialism intertwine with and embrace each other. A provocative intellectual paean to the irrepressible inventiveness of a rural community that has been oppressed but never conquered. A danca continua!”

Albie Sachs

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