Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

Welcome to the Spencer Collection

  • Zulu peoples
  • imbenge, 1925–1990
  • Where object was made: South Africa
  • plant fiber, weaving
  • Object Diameter: 19.05 cm
    Object Diameter: 7 1/2 in
  • Anonymous gift
  • Not on display
  • PG2008.004
Label Text

Exhibition Label:
"Earthly Vessels: African Ceramics," Sep-2009, Nancy Mahaney
Food for the Ancestors

After the harvest, Zulu women process sorghum or millet grain to make beer, using large vessels. The Zulu consider the beer to be the food of the ancestors. The women brew and store the beer in a sacred area at the back of the house called the umsamo, where the pots are left just slightly uncovered, so that the ancestors can taste the drink. Zulus share the beer at social events by passing it from person to person using the smaller beer pots. Beer is seen as a symbol of fertility, and the offering of beer to the ancestors is one way of thanking them for continuing the life cycle of the community through the women’s fertility.