African pottery symbols

African pottery symbols

The vast African continent contains an extreme diversity of cultures, countries and terrains. This has had a critical influence on the styles and techniques that are employed to create their pottery wares.

One of the constants in their traditional pottery production is that they are usually hand crafted without the use of a wheel, utilizing coiling and molding techniques and their methods have been passed down through generations. Terracotta clay is most commonly used, fired in the open, to produce pots of remarkable durability.

Their pottery wares embody a refined understanding of material, process, and embellishment that conjures a deceptive simplicity. Many superstitions and rituals are present in their pottery exploits, where in some tribes, only the woman are allowed to make the pottery, while in others it is only the men.

The Bamana perform an initiation for learning pottery skills that only accepts girls that are virgins and also they have to come from a pottery making lineage.

10 Facts about African Patterns

Somer tribes divide their pots into masculine and feminine shapes. For example the taller, long necked Bamana pots are classified as masculine while the shorter, fuller pots are feminine. Clay carving, incision and impression are popular decorative techniques and scarification may also be added to a pot, quite often similar to the markings that identify a particular tribe. The Ovambo, Kavango and Caprivi tribes in Namibia, use the hardened clay from termite hills, as it contains a glue saliva from the termites.

This termite clay makes pots quite strong and helps with the binding of the clay in the formation of the pot. In the rain forest areas of West Africa, where streams and rivers are abundant, clay is usually mined close to existing watercourses and is dug from the banks of streams when the water is low. Enough clay is dug while the pits are accessible to keep the potters supplied throughout the rainy season, when the pits are full of water. In the more arid regions, the best time to dig is after the fall harvest and before the beginning of the dry season.

The men and women can recognize where the best quality clay is found by the telltale cracks. The men use axes and hoes to dig, up to two meters down, for the purest deposits of clay. They then fill huge basins with clay which is passed to the women at the surface, who distribute the clay equally among themselves. The clay is spread in the sun to dry and stored in large ceramic vessels until the day before the potter intends to use the clay and it is then soaked overnight.

To avoid the pottery cracking, tempers are used consisting of finely chopped straw, dried animal dung pounded into a powder, or the chaff left when rice or millet is winnowed.A distinctive feature of traditional African dress is its use of festive colors, intricate patterns and figurative symbols to communicate meaning.

These garments are much more than mere adornment.

Traditional African Pottery

According to Dr. Kwesi Yankah, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Ghana, they are used "not just to praise political heroes, to commemorate historical events, and to assert social identities, but also as a form of rhetoric--a channel for the silent projection of argument.

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Adinkra cloth is an embroidered and dyed cotton cloth that is native to Ghana. Using stamps carved from a gourd or calabash, the cloth is decorated with Adinkra symbols. These symbols, of which there are more thanrepresent historical events, regional proverbs and ideology, and aspects of daily life.

Some common Adinkra symbols are the Adwo, which represents peace, the Dua Afe, a symbol of love and beauty and the Abe Dua, a treelike emblem that represents self-sufficiency and wealth. Kente cloth is typically woven into long 3- to 4-inch-wide panels.

african pottery symbols

Several panels can be sewn together to make clothing for both men and women. The patterns created by the brightly colored threads often represent common motifs, religious beliefs and political commentary. The colors are of particular significance as they interpret the meaning of the pattern, with red symbolizing death, green meaning fertility, white expressing purity and blue signifying love.

In addition to pictorial symbols, colors and writing on the surface of the cloth, often the cut of a particular African garment can convey meaning. Traditional dress for the women of Akan includes various pieces that signify age and marital status. A woman wearing a Kaba, or top, and a long wrap-around skirt called an Asee Ntoma is likely young and unmarried. If she adds an Abosoo, a stretch of cloth around her midsection that is often used to carry small children, she indicates that she is married.

Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and also online at MaestroCompany. The database based on Word Net is a lexical database for the English Language. See disclaimer. About the Author. Photo Credits.Pots are like data, they provide insight into the cultural interchanges of African societies; the life they led, the paths they trod, the needs they had and the skills they possessed.

Shards of pottery found by archaeologists in ancient sites tell us that pots were being made as early as BC. A noble reverence can be felt when looking at a beautifully formed vessel that has fulfilled its function perfectly for thousands of years. Simultaneously art and craft, African pots represent both conceptual ideas and practical utility. At once durable yet fragile, they have endured for centuries and through them, we can start to imagine the artists who shaped their form with their bare hands and crafted their features with crude tools.

Pots were used in rural communities for carrying water, the mass storage of food and milk, cooking food, serving and drinking beer.

Built for an entirely functional use the vessels were easily and cheaply made as long as clay was locally available. Their ideas around the creation of certain spiritual vessels were however not rudimentary and these ceramics were, and still can be, a potent aspect of ritual arts in Africa.

Sculpted vessels expressing surface design were vehicles for addressing the metaphysical needs of the community. They could be fashioned with representational spirit forms and manipulations, or incised with designs, scribbles and scouring. These pots were often kept in their own confined, custom built spaces where they were tended and consulted for ritualistic purposes.

Some were deliberately broken during ritual ceremonies, while some have endured and been maintained for many generations. Currently, some traditions have been abandoned and the practice of making ritualistic vessels no longer exists in many communities.

Making a pot starts with the mining and preparation of clay, then blending it with water until it reaches a malleable state. Temper or matter like ground sand, pebbles or old pottery, chopped dried grass and dung or crushed chaff from winnowing grains and rice is kneaded in to the clay to decrease the shrinkage that occurs during the drying and firing processes. Pots are generally coiled around a flattened base and then molded and smoothed into shape. Sometimes an actual mold of pottery, wood or a calabash is used.

Once the desired form is achieved they are left to be sundried before being wood fired for the first time for at least 4 hours at a low temperature. This can be done over an open fire or in more established communities they will have pits or kilns to do the job.

In drought areas, acquiring wood for this task presents a real challenge and dried cow dung can be supplemented. Low, circular brick walls with air holes at the base surround a thick layer of fuel on to which the pots are placed. Extra fuel is strewn between the pots. The kiln is then lit from the bottom and old, broken pottery is placed on top to retain heat.

Decoration of vessels happens once the pot has completely dried. The potter can choose between adding extra shapes like human or animal figures and geometric or abstract forms to the surface or incising motifs like zigzags or cross hatchings with a sharp blade or combs. Handles or lids can be molded and attached to adorn the pots or textural patterns can be impressed with roulette.

Most of this embellishment is done before firing and will generally be more permanent, enduring extensive use. Post-firing embellishment, mostly colouring or splashing with natural dye slip made from ochre or chalkwill tend to be less long lasting. Pots can be brushed with a liquid made of leaves, aloe or tree bark which give them a shiny surface. Polishing pots is one of the principal forms of decoration and a deep, burnished effect can be achieved by rubbing the surface with animal fat, soot and a pebble and then re-fired to achieve a deep glossy finish.

Graphite can also be rubbed onto the exterior. Grass is sometimes woven around the pots for decoration or to give extra strength and longer storage life. Pottery is a craft that survives in various communities in Africa.A quick note: some images have larger or alternate views. Click or tap on them to see it. Maybe you thought they were emptying the contents or dusting the shop! Well, some of the pottery lovers like myself have spent years identifying American pottery, and one of the best ways to do this is by looking at the bottom of the piece.

In most of the American pottery pieces, the bottom tells more than the glaze. The bottom shows the name, if there is one, the color of the clay, the way the piece is fired, and other characteristics that help with the identification.

african pottery symbols

If you're looking to identify a piece of marked pottery, you may want to check our American Pottery Marks and Resource Directory and compare the mark there. If you pick up a piece of pottery and it has identifying marks such as a name or logo, you can easily determine the maker. This is wonderful, but not always available. See the Frankoma pitcher, right. Since not all pottery is marked, the identification must be done with a little more resourcefulness.

The best identifier I have found for determining if an unmarked piece of pottery is American made is the heft of the piece. Most American pottery pieces have some weight to them—unlike the Japan imports of the s, s and s that seem fairly light in comparison. So, just in the process of picking up the piece, the weight is registering in my mind.

This is something that has to be developed over time. It is not that any piece over a certain weight is American pottery—it is the relationship between the size and the weight that helps determine the country of origin.

The Magic of Signs and Patterns in North African Art

The American pieces feel like they have "heavy bottoms" and often the walls are thicker than Japan and other foreign potteries. The clay color is the first thing I see on the bottom of any piece of pottery, and certain colors can identify the maker.

It is essential to look for an unglazed area to determine the clay color. For example, you probably know that Frankoma was made with a red clay for many years. Look at the feet on the Frankoma leaf left. Ada clay was a yellow beige and was earlier than the red clay pieces. Note the bottom on the Frankoma piece right. Blue Mountain pottery of Canada is usually made of red clay, is often unmarked and looks and feels much like American pottery.

Early Peters and Reed pottery was red clay, too, as were many of the Arts and Crafts pots like Grueby. Some Italian and Mexican pottery is made with red clay, and much of the southwest or Native American pottery uses shades of red.

Harris G. Strong used red clay sometimes, too, and Nicodemus is a red clay pottery. Jugtown is often red clay, and there are some North Carolina potters who used red clay.

See this red clay dish by Harris G. Strong left. Georgia, Alabama, and North and South Carolina have available veins of red clay that are suitable for pottery, so consider makers in those geographical areas if you have a red clay pot to identify. Of course there are lots more, but if you have a piece of pottery with a red clay base, this is a start.

There are many different shades of "red" clay, but red and deep pink clays have been readily available to the potter for centuries, and this color often gives the glaze a different look than it would have with another color clay.

Yellow clay was primarily from Ohio, so most of the Ohio potteries used yellow clay. RosevilleMcCoy and Brush are examples of the yellow clay potters.

african pottery symbols

For an example, see the yellow clay bowl produced by McCoy right. Robinson-Ransbottom was mostly yellow clay.African pottery served a variety of functions in the region. Enter your search terms Submit search form Web www. The making of pottery in Africa began around the 7th millennium BC and continues to this day in the various regions of the continent.

In most cases, pottery was made by women. Clay was worked on entirely by hand and shaped and fashioned into the desired shape. In other cases, the women would pour the clay into a mould made of pottery, wood or a calabash. Clay pots were and still are being used to cook foodstore water and for various other food preparation functions. After drying the clay, the pots are put in a pile and covered with wood, bark or dried cow dung and baked outdoors in an open fire.

However in Nigeria and Mali, real kilns are used to bake the pots. After baking, the pots are then decorated. Polishing pots was and still is a common practice among the various African tribes. African pottery from the central part of the region usually had a deep and lustrous finish which was normally achieved by the firing process. In other areas of Africa, plant dyes were used for coloring and were randomly splashed on after the firing process. This practice was common among the Congolese people in what is now Zaire.

In other regions, they had human or animal figures added to them to give them character or serve as handles or pouring beaks. The Mangbetu people of Zaire were masters at mixing designs with round-shaped pottery to produce remarkable vases.

Other materials were also added to the pots for functionality or ornamental purposes. A good example of this were the basketwork covers fitted over the pots, making them more functional and also more elegant.

Yet despite its beauty, African pottery had two drawbacks, it was both fragile and heavy. As a result of this most of the early pieces are becoming harder to find, making them very pricey to own.

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However, thanks to the many skilled craftspeople, they are still being made and sold to collectors all over the world. Copyright All-About-African-Art. Enter your search terms Submit search form. Then Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.For easy reference and as a quick guide to the possible attribution of your latest porcelain collectible or pottery marks.

The marks listed below are grouped as far as was possible in a logical order, with similar signs, graphics, shapes, etc grouped together. We have tried to include as many ceramics and pottery marks as possible, but also tried to avoid too much duplication.

If we have additional information on the pottery mark or piece, you can click the image to open that section. Including various marks from a range of British, American, and European pottery and porcelain manufacturers. A quick view of some samples of the diverse range of Royal Doulton Marks.

Click an image to open the full Doulton marks section.

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Click an image to open the full Moorcroft Marks Section. Click an image to open the full Royal Worcester section. Home Latest Updates Forum Valuations. Your guide to antique pottery marks, porcelain marks and china marks. Scan the index of this pottery marks identification guide to help you identify your pottery or porcelain. You can also try searching for the potter in the search box above.

Miscellaneous Pottery Porcelain Marks: Including various marks from a range of British, American, and European pottery and porcelain manufacturers.The vast African continent contains an extreme diversity of cultures, countries and terrains. This has had a critical influence on the styles and techniques that are employed to create their pottery wares.

One of the constants in their traditional pottery production is that they are usually hand crafted without the use of a wheel, utilizing coiling and molding techniques and their methods have been passed down through generations.

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Terracotta clay is most commonly used, fired in the open, to produce pots of remarkable durability. Their pottery wares embody a refined understanding of material, process, and embellishment that conjures a deceptive simplicity. Many superstitions and rituals are present in their pottery exploits, where in some tribes, only the woman are allowed to make the pottery, while in others it is only the men. The Bamana perform an initiation for learning pottery skills that only accepts girls that are virgins and also they have to come from a pottery making lineage.

Somer tribes divide their pots into masculine and feminine shapes. For example the taller, long necked Bamana pots are classified as masculine while the shorter, fuller pots are feminine. Clay carving, incision and impression are popular decorative techniques and scarification may also be added to a pot, quite often similar to the markings that identify a particular tribe. The Ovambo, Kavango and Caprivi tribes in Namibia, use the hardened clay from termite hills, as it contains a glue saliva from the termites.

This termite clay makes pots quite strong and helps with the binding of the clay in the formation of the pot. In the rain forest areas of West Africa, where streams and rivers are abundant, clay is usually mined close to existing watercourses and is dug from the banks of streams when the water is low.

Enough clay is dug while the pits are accessible to keep the potters supplied throughout the rainy season, when the pits are full of water. In the more arid regions, the best time to dig is after the fall harvest and before the beginning of the dry season.

What Are the Meanings of the Symbols on African Clothing?

The men and women can recognize where the best quality clay is found by the telltale cracks. The men use axes and hoes to dig, up to two meters down, for the purest deposits of clay.

They then fill huge basins with clay which is passed to the women at the surface, who distribute the clay equally among themselves. The clay is spread in the sun to dry and stored in large ceramic vessels until the day before the potter intends to use the clay and it is then soaked overnight. To avoid the pottery cracking, tempers are used consisting of finely chopped straw, dried animal dung pounded into a powder, or the chaff left when rice or millet is winnowed.

Also ground-up dried river mud or, most commonly, shards of old pottery are used, after being reduced to a fine powder by pounding in a wooden mortar. The fine grain grog is then added to the clay mixture to prevent excessive shrinkage during firing After applying decorations, the pots are left in the sun to dry, or if in a place where it rains often, they are placed in a dry hut or room or near a fire to dry. Women of the same household often fire together with twenty-five to thirty-five pieces as average per firing.

Bamana potters place their large pots upright on a bed of wood during firing and encircle the smaller pots around the larger. Branches are positioned on top of the pile to separate and secure the vessels. Within about an hour of lighting the fire, the women use long wooden poles fitted with iron hooks called wolosow to hook or maneuver the pots from the fire. The women begin with removing the smaller pots and immediately plunge the pots into a special bath that blackens the surface.

The process of pulling the pots from the fire takes around one to two hours of intense activity. Left to right — Jidaga water jar. Sheminfaga chicken watering pot. The Somono Potters make the largest and most diverse selection of pottery consisting of common cooking, serving, and storage pots. They also have a large variety of architectural ceramics — rainspouts, window grills, roof vents and toilet shafts. The Soninke, Bamana and Manika Potters make water jars and pitchers, braziers, couscous steamers, and cooking pots and build large, unfired clay granaries bono.

The Jula have more in common with the Senufo when regarding styles and types. The Dogon have a limited range of simple pottery.

Some pottery styles are unique to certain regions, for example the singon is found in Soninke, Bamana, Maninka, Somono, and Fula cultures across the north but it is raely seen in Jula and not at all in Senufo or other potteries to the south or east.

Another example, would be the bamadaga, which is found in pottery all across the south from Guinea to Benin, but not seen in the pottery from the north.

Ceremonial vessel used by the Dogon people to serve food to a Hogon priest.


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