This elegant Zulu vessel is handmade from terracotta clay, with a wax finish, built via the coil construction method. Its sleek surface is embellished by a circular row of thousands of engraved indentations. These embellishments serve both an aesthetic purpose and as a tool to facilitate a hand grip while drinking.
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. 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, change-of-life rituals and other 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 of space that the ancestors prefer.