Student Interpretation → Jennifer Formont

  • Lidded Vessel
  • Lidded Vessel
  • Lidded Vessel

Lidded Vessels

These vessels incorporate three important aspects of Zulu artistry: pottery, basketry, and beadwork, all of which are predominately produced by women. The ceramic pot is an ukhamba, used for serving and storing indigenous beer made from sorghum. Beer serves important secular and religious roles in Zulu culture as it is an essential element in social gatherings as well as in ritual offerings to ancestors. Incised plant and geometric designs decorate the beer containers. The lids, called the imbenge, of the pots are coil-woven out of grass and decorated with geometric patterns of beadwork. The deliberate placement of the beads and use of specific color schemes often indicate the work's regional or ethnic origins. Beadwork is widely practiced, and is one of the finest forms of artistic expression in Zulu culture. It is used for diverse forms of personal adornment that communicate aspects of individual status or character. Beads are also used for objects in spiritual contexts and are generally associated with ancestors.

Lidded Vessel

Lidded Vessel


Zulu People
South Africa
Beer Pot (ukhamba)
20th Century
Clay, animal fat, soot
Gift of Rodney D. McGalliard
1995.28.80

In Zulu society beer made from sorghum is an important ritual offering for the ancestors and it is also a refreshing, nutritious beverage. Women and men create coil-woven pot lids, imbenge, that serve either as a stand for a ceramic vessel, ukhamba, or a gourd drinking bowl. The act of offering beer, and serving beer to family and honored guests afterward, is a means of acknowledging the presence of the ancestral spirits and the importance of their wisdom in guiding the lives of their descendants. Bead colors and patterns are specific to various Zulu groups. The blue, pink and green beaded imbenge, for example, is a color combination identified with the Zulu of Msinga, called isishunka.

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