Multiple incense burner

Geneira, Darfur, Sudan, probably mid-20th century AD

Pots are made primarily for cooking and the storage of food but in many African societies they also have a wider role: being used as wardrobes, handbasins and containers for a wide range of valuables. Pottery is also used in architecture, for elements such as pipes, roof-finials and skylights. Glazed tiles formed into mosaic patterns are a basic feature of Moroccan architecture and in other parts of Africa pottery plates are incorporated into buildings. Other ceramic items include furniture, coffins, funerary monuments, musical instruments, dolls, mortars, grindstones, lamps and beads.

The possession of pottery is an indication of status and how a particular pot is used or offered to someone indicates the social relationship between people. For example, the Zulu people offer visitors beer in a large decorated pot, ukhamba. A smaller pot, umanishanem, is also used for the same purpose, but this could mean that the guest should visit for a short period, and leave, or that the host is short of beer.

There are different attitudes to pottery in Europe and Africa. In Europe a pot is considered damaged if chipped, while in Africa, particularly Morocco, chipped pots are not regarded as spoiled. In fact, spacers are used in kilns to ensure some blemishes round the lip and body. In other parts, pots are repaired with wire, gum and beeswax or patches of cement. Broken pottery is used as floor tiles, spindle whorls for spinning, loom weights in textile production and tools and roundels for making new pots.

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More information


N. Barley, Smashing pots, feats of clay f (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Height: 41.000 cm
Width: 29.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 5085



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