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Round, burnished, black pot with a side by side double diamond design carved around the sides three times. Each diamond is composed of rows of smaller raised diamonds. The form is globular, with a flat circular base, and wide circular mouth. A round, woven basketry piece (part b) fits over the opening as a cover. The cover is woven in a coiled design.

History Of Use

Beer drinking pot (ukhamba) with basketry cover (imbenge); usually made by women. Women create the pots and tools for beer making because of the idea that heat is the driver of growth and qualitative change, and women are perceived to be natural possessors of the heat needed for creation. Because of the importance of heat in both the maker and the process of brewing utshwala there are taboos in place to prevent too much heat energy from a woman affecting the brew. If women are menstruating, pregnant, or have had sex in the past day, they are forbidden from brewing beer, making tools for brewing, or firing an ukhamba. The beer beverage, utshwala, is traditionally used in communal ceremonies (umancishana) to contact ancestor spirits (Amadlozi). The first drinker is a woman, to ensure that it is brewed properly, and the second is the male head of the household. Afterwards it was passed around to the other men; men and women drank separately. The ceramic pots that store the beer (izinkamba or ukhamba), would traditionally be kept on the floor in a cool, dark environment, called an umsamo, so the Amadlozi could always have access. These brews, as well as the tools used in their production, are among the few income-generating crafts historically produced by women in the region. Utshwala is still widely brewed in homes across South Africa for domestic consumption, as well as gifts and for sale.


Zulu ceramic vessel made in the Umlazi area (southeast of Durban) of KwaZulu/Natal province. Purchased by Tchuemegne from a dealer in Durban.

Iconographic Meaning

The raised double-diamond pattern indicates the maker was a married woman.

Specific Techniques

Drinking vessels (ukhamba) are made out of a finer clay than the fermentation vessels (imbiza). They are made with a coiling technique, e.g., starting at the base: a large lump of clay is molded by hand, then rolls of clay rings build up the walls, that are pinched together by hand, and then smoothed with a piece of calabash rind. Another method has the walls built first; clay is added, working it into the body of the pot, and then smoothed out with a bauhinia creeper seed pod. The rims of pots are made out of a thin roll of clay, smoothed with wet leather; the pot is dried for a few days, inverted, and then the base is filled with additional pieces of clay. After the initial, or bisque, firing ceramics are treated with surface coatings. Two different coverings were likely used in this ukhamab's creation. The first coat involved covering the exterior surface with cattle dung, and then applying cattle fat and graphite mixture, to give the pot the matte black appearance. After firing it again, the vessel would be burnished with a piece of cloth, leather, or smooth pebble. Decorations were added by either carving into hard clay or by adding to the wet clay to create a raised design. The lid (imbenge) was created with the coiled weaving technique; which may represent the umqolo weaving technique.

Item History

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