Zulu Beer Vessel - Ukhamba

Zulu women traditionally brewed beer (utshwala) from sorghum. After being cooked and fermented in a large clay vessel, the final product was filtered through a grass sieve and served in an ukhamba,or beer pot. Ukhamba are shaped with the coil method, then smoothed, incised, indented or embossed with geometric patterns, and finally fired, which hardens the clay and darkens itssurface. The black, lustrous finish of this ukhamba is contrasted beautifully by the addition of a single, bold ring of strongly pointed amasumpa motifs encircling the upper half of the vessel. Embellishment of pots in this way was decorative,but also a matter of utility, providing the holder a firm grip.


For the Zulu people, brewing and drinking beer encompassed more than mundane considerations. The sharing of beer played a central role in familial ceremonies and the life of communities. It was offered to the spirits of the ancestors, who were always close at hand and whose goodwill it was important to cultivate. For a successful brew, ‘living water’ would be sourced from a running stream, spring, or just below a waterfall to ensure the involvement of the ancestors in the entire process and product.

20th Century
Earthenware clay with burnished surface
Height: 12 in; Diameter: 12 in (30 cm x 30 cm)

Frank Jolles, South Africa

Private Collection, USA

Item Number:
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