Pottery bowl and wire cover

Zulu, probably early 20th century AD
From South Africa

In traditional, rural Zulu society, labour is strictly divided. Men tend animals, clear lands and cultivate crops and women maintain households and craft traditions of bead-work, basketry and pottery.

Pots are made by building up layers of clay in coils from a circular base in increasing lengths, building up the walls of the vessel until it reaches the desired shape. A small piece of calabash (gourd), a stone or a piece of metal is used to smooth the inside and outside wall of the pot.

Pots are fired in a shallow pit and those intended for cooking or storage are kept in the fire until it is completely extinguished. Pots for eating and drinking undergo a second firing using cakes of dried cow dung. During this stage the fire is red hot after which the pot is covered with the powdered dung producing a black surface. It is then burnished with gooseberry leaves and animal fat using a small flattened stone, imbokode.

The dimples on this pot imitate patterns of scarification on Zulu women's bodies. The cover, imbenge, is of a type traditionally woven from grass. In recent years, Zulu nightwatchmen working in large towns have woven these covers using plastic-coated wire from telpehone junction boxes.

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More information


R. Levinsohn, Art and craft of southern Afri (Craighall, Delta, 1984)


Height: 21.000 cm (pot)
Width: 25.500 cm

Museum number

AOA 1934.12-1.5;AOA 1991.Af9.8



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