This stunning Zulu vessel is handmade from terracotta clay, employing coil method construction and finished in wax. Often employed as a table centerpiece, its curved contour and sleek surface is embellished by energetic, polychromatic patterns. Upon a background of crimson lie concentric rings of upright triangles embellished with large, like-hued dots, which distinguish this vessel from others of the same genre.
The Zulu people are part of the Nguni, an agrarian, homesteading culture living in Southern Africa. Within many factions of Zulu society, both the phenomena of beer consumption and the crafting of pottery are integral to their life ways. This pot is known as “Ukhamba,” and the libation consumed from it is “Utshwala,” a local sorghum or millet beer which is nutritional and relatively low in alcohol content. Utshwala is served during many Zulu social events, including weddings, funerals, other change-of-life rituals and gatherings whereby ancestors’ spiritual guidance is sought. At such enactments, the drink is offered to ancestors in one of these clay pots, which, by custom, is passed around among all present.
Along with meat and herbal incense, the vessel is traditionally placed in the “Umsamo,” a darkened room within the household where sacred objects from past generations are securely stored. The Umsamo is aesthetically linked with shade, coolness, and darkness, a type and mood of space which the ancestors prefer.