Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

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udu (pot-drum)
  • Igbo peoples
  • udu (pot-drum), 1925–1990
  • Where object was made: Nigeria
  • ceramic
  • Object Height/Diameter: 35.56 x 27.94 cm
    Object Height/Diameter: 14 x 11 in
  • Anonymous gift
  • Not on display
  • PG2008.037
Label Text

"Earthly Vessels: African Ceramics," Sep-2009, Nancy Mahaney
The Udu Project highlights the need to bring recognition to the Igbo women, the originators of this unique African pottery drum.

Eugene Skeef’s Udu Project: I am a Zulu composer and percussionist from South Africa. In my culture we do not regard ourselves as separate from the rest of nature. Our language is full of metaphors and maxims that celebrate the munificence of the natural environment. Traditionally we bury a baby’s umbilical cord in the earth and plant a tree over it. The tree becomes sacred and any wanton damage to it is seen as a violation of the spirit of creation.
I am completely enthralled by the power of African drumming, but the Nigerian clay pot drum called the udu is by far my favorite musical instrument. I play it every day for my own relaxation and balance. I have also played it for each of my children to creatively engage and pacify them while they were in their mother’s womb, and also when they were babies.
I have had extensive experience of using the udu in a trauma-healing context in Bosnia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. The therapeutic effects of this instrument inspired me to found the charity Umoya Creations (Umoya is the Zulu word for spirit, breath, wind, temperament, and rumour) to advocate its use in communities around the world.
The originators of the udu are Igbo women from the eastern region of Nigeria, who use it mainly for ceremonial purposes. I figured they would be the best people to consult on the making of this beautiful instrument. So in 2005 I traveled to Enugu in eastern Nigeria, where I met expert udu makers Victoria Eze, Angelina Okoro, Grace Ugwoke, and Uzor Amaka Ugwoke. I filmed these amazingly gifted women in their village of Umuoyo Esimba Nrobo demonstrating the whole process of making an udu, from kneading the clay
to firing and playing the completed pot drum.
The men in this society are traditionally not allowed to make pottery, believing it to be taboo, and that they will become impotent if they do so. The clay used to make the udus is collected by the women from secret,
sacred locations, where the presence of a man would be regarded as a serious violation. Here, the women have to supplicate themselves and make offerings to the female deity of pottery in a gesture of gratitude for her generosity towards the community, who benefit from the ceremonial music of the udu.
I see each udu as a vessel of the ancestral spirits. When I see udus in a museum I believe the ancestral spirits are still present in the clay. In my view, when approaching the udu, visitors to the museum should express reverence towards these latent spirits.
Eugene Skeef
To learn more, please visit Eugene Skeef’s Udu Project at www.youtube.com.