Pots that talk, izinkamba ezikhulumayo


  • J. Armstrong University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • G. Whitelaw Natal Museum
  • D. Reusch KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service


Zulu ceramic style flourished in the twentieth century and is manifest today principally in richly decorated beer vessels. The decoration includes motifs that represent categories of people as well as concepts such as fertility. The pots create an ancestral presence at beer and meat feasts. They remind users of the behaviour that the ancestors would sanction, reinforcing the strict rules that serve to maintain social order. In this sense, pot decoration materializes pollution beliefs; they are different aspects of the same thing. Decorated beer pots are therefore implicated in the control of human creative and productive potential, which men accumulate primarily through marriage. But their symbolism is not so much directed internally, within the homestead. Social necessity and the demands of hospitality mean that beer drinking exposes the homestead to clan strangers, who are potentially both partners in marriage and threats to the homestead's health. It is at these ambiguous, socially complex situations that the decoration is primarily directed. The ideas that underpin beer pot decoration persist today, even though they are no longer of central economic importance. Ceramic style is now tradition, bolstering the authority of men.




How to Cite

Armstrong, J., Whitelaw, G., & Reusch, D. (2021). Pots that talk, izinkamba ezikhulumayo. Southern African Humanities, 20(2), 513–48. Retrieved from https://sahumanities.org/index.php/sah/article/view/370




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