Zulu pottery technology and group identity in the Phongolo Basin, South Africa


  • K. D. Fowler University of Manitoba


Archaeologists in southern Africa have long relied upon the variation in decorated pottery vessels to delimit material cultural boundaries and to infer group identity and chronological relationships. Historically, however, not all people in the region commonly decorated pottery in the precolonial era. Until the twentieth century Nguni-speaking people rarely decorated pottery. Consequently, conventional stylistic analyses are of little help for identifying precolonial Nguni social groups and inferring social interactions. A potential solution to this problem is provided by a growing body of literature on ceramic ethnoarchaeology, which demonstrates that the manufacture of pottery, as opposed to its final appearance, provides a sensitive indicator of social identities. In this paper, I investigate whether the style and manufacturing practices distinguish two present-day communities of Zulu potters living in the Phongolo Basin in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The results of this study show that pottery style and technology are substantially different between communities of potters in the Ntshengase and Mathenjwa Traditional Authorities. More importantly, each community shares different degrees of technical know-how with each other and with neighbouring Nguni- and non-Nguni-speaking groups. Such variation in technical style corresponds to the different social interactions and dynamics experienced by Zulu communities along the Phongolo River that are known from oral history.



How to Cite

Fowler, K. D. (2015). Zulu pottery technology and group identity in the Phongolo Basin, South Africa. Southern African Humanities, 27, 81–111. Retrieved from https://sahumanities.org/index.php/sah/article/view/336