The origins of the twentieth century Zulu beer vessel styles


  • F. Jolles Natal Museum and University of KwaZulu-Natal


The term Zulu is placed in its historical, ethnic and regional context. Twentieth century beer vessels are then classified according to four main types:imbizauphisoukhamba and umancishana, which also correspond to the use to which they were put. Within these types five main regional styles based on form and surface decoration emerge: Phongolo, Nongoma, Hlabisa, Melmoth-Eshowe, Lower Thukela and Msinga. The styles are illustrated by means of a classified database of 106 beer vessels. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, stylistic boundaries were frequently blurred due to relocations of people and the increased mobility of the pot making families.

There is no evidence that the characteristic blackened Zulu ceramic ware existed before the middle of the nineteenth century. It is absent from excavations of late eighteenth century settlements. During the disruptions of the early decades of the nineteenth century, beer baskets were in common use as drinking vessels. It is likely that the distinctive regional stylistic features of the ceramic vessels developed in the nineteenth century Shepstonian locations in Natal (from about 1848) and the redefined tribal regions of the former Zulu kingdom after the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.



How to Cite

Jolles, F. (2021). The origins of the twentieth century Zulu beer vessel styles. Southern African Humanities, 17, 101–51. Retrieved from