Ceramic Storage Vessel

Mozambique, Makonde. 20th century
Anonymous gift

In Africa women make and use ornamented ceramic vessel in the home for carrying and storing food and water. While these are increasingly being supplanted today by other less fragile containers, some people like the Makonde of Mozambique still prefer ceramic containers for transporting and storing water, since clay acts as a natural cooler. Made on commission, these vessel are among the most treasured possessions of Makonde women, and their importance is expressed by their extended lives; pots used to carry and store wet and dry goods in life were later placed on a woman’s grave.

Makonde vessel are noted for their exaggerated amphora shape and high level of creativity: the floral and geometric decoration incised onto each pot are unique, no two pots ever receive the same overall design. A generalized form of body tattooing appears as incised patterns on the chamber of this vessel. The Makonde word for drawing on pottery, nkova, is the same word used for tattooing, once a widespread practice with important ritual significance. When carried on the head, the vessel acts as a visual extension of the woman’s body.