Why is Shona Pottery Important?

Kundai Annah Mharadze

(ARUCAD Faculty of Arts Department of Plastic Arts 4th Year Student)

Clay pots were mainly used for rituals. For example, traditional healers would use the pots to mix herbs for medicinal purposes or to connect with the ancestral spirits. Some of these pots were used to represent old people of the dead. Other ritual activities that were held were when older women would go with the young girls to the river to see if they are virgins or not (Lindahl & Matenga 1995; Robert;Tendai Nyamushosho 2017). If the girl is a virgin, she would go with a clay pot full of water to her father. But if not a virgin, the clay pot would be filled halfway through, then she would have to explain to her father.

The Shona clay pots were mainly known for food consumption. Food was the main key to bringing families and communities together, where entertainment parties and worship of gods would be held. Which led to this question, why Shona women processed the clay and made pots from it and not men? At mostly, the artist skill was evolved especially during winter months, when it’s not the farming season. In the iron age period, men were known for carving iron, hunting and going to war symbolizing power in them. According to FH Chimhanda, the clay pots symbolized the round hut, birth and womb.

While women take care of the children, cook food for the family and even weave baskets. These accomplished skills would attract people from other countries such as China, Britain and other neighboring countries like Mozambique, Zambia…etc. Thus, there are Chinese, Persian and Arab archeological findings at the Great Zimbabwe.

This shows that there were trading activities as well (Munyaradzi Muntanga, 2017).

Techniques used: By using the pinching and coiling technique, the pots where shaped in a round form from the bottom up. This type of shape and form would also make it easy to balance over the head when fetching water, with the help of a coiled cloth just above the head. (Lindahl and Pikirai 2010)

The Shona women would use any tools suitable from their surroundings. For example, banana leaves to smoothen the clay pot, wood pieces for designing, smooth stones, iron pieces, rugs and so much more. Clay pots which were used for rituals, and for storing food and water had designs on them . While the pots that were used for cooking had no designs because fire would destroy the designs and make it black in color. The firing method required

timing to know whether the clay pots are ready for use or not. A pit is dug enough to fit the pots and then stack around cow dung as fuel. The heat had to be controlled because if it’s too much the clay will explode, if too little, the clay will not be completely dry.

Shona clay pots were given names according to their design and purpose. For example, Shamabakodzi, which is a big pot with a big mouth open for cooking sadza, known as think porridge. Hadyana was used for cooking relish. Compared to the shambakodzi, hadyana was slightly smaller in size. Another name is Mbiya, also small in size and often mistaken for hadyana, was used as a plate or side dish. This had decorations around it. Pfuko was used to store beer or for fermentation. And had all sorts of decorations. The neck of the pot was very narrow, making it easy to pour out the beverages. And finally, Chirongo was used to fetch water. There was no specific clay pot that more important than the other. They all played an important role in the Shona culture of Zimbabwe. Below is an example of a Chirongo in making, in which I used the pinching the beginning of the modeling, then the coiling method.


Until today, techniques used for pottery have been handed down by women from generation to generation showing how the Shona women constructed stage by stage, starting by weight of the pot, the size which determined the use.

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