Knowing your ukhamba from your umancishana

steven-smith-pottery-zulu2Last week we wrote about the wonderful Earth-Water-Fire ceramic exhibition currently on show at the Phansi Museum, so we thought this week it would be appropriate to write a brief introduction on the different types of traditional Zulu clay pots. The ukhamba is probably the Zulu pot that people are most familiar with – while contemporary Zulu homes might have no other traditional items, the ukhamba often remains as the one thing that binds Zulus to their heritage. The ukhamba pot is used in all beer drinking rituals, including ones where beer is offered to the ancestors, and even when it is broken it still serves a purpose, with the broken pieces being used to burn imphepho to communicate with the ancestors.

The umancishana is a smaller version of the ukhamba, with the name being derived from ncintshana, ‘to be stingy with’. It is usually undecorated and is most often reserved for guests, or making offerings to the spirits of the ancestors.

The imbiza is larger than the ukhamba and is used for brewing beer. The fermentation process which the ibiza is used for invites ancestors to commune with the living – in making the pot the shoulder is always smeared lightly with dung in order to cement its associations with the ancestors. The designs used to decorate the pots vary depending on which region the pots come from.

Finally the uphiso is a medium to large round-bodied pot that holds up to 30 litres of liquid. Uphiso usually have a small cylindrical neck which stops liquid from spilling when the pot is being carried. The main purpose of this pot is to transport water or beer.

There’s obviously so much more to the different Zulu pots than we’ve presented here – if you’re interested in the  history of traditional Zulu pots take the time to read Frank Jolles’ The Origins of the Twentieth Century Zulu Beer Vessel Styles. It’s an academic paper (so slightly heavy reading), but one full of detail and interesting tales!

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