Mashetani (sg. Shetani)are the vast and variegated host of spirits who make us a substantial facet of the Tanzanian/Zanzibari religious imaginary. Belief in mashetani is widespread throughout the Zanzibar archipelago, and is associated with a spectrum of ritual practice and material culture. On the mainland, Makonde woodcarvers have created a robust tradition of representing mashetani in sculpture. At once unsettling and grotesquely funny, these images challenge the limits of bodily integrity and fluidity – playing with the boundaries between
human and animal bodies, and confronting the viewer with forbidden sexual and scatological themes. These images, it should be pointed out, are considerably more influenced by the tastes and proclivities of art collectors, than they are by local vernacular belief and practice – making the mashetani sculptures a fascinating exercise in representing the supernatural across lines of class and culture.