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Craftwork in the Mpondo Kingdom

By Stella Sigcau


Craftwork plays a very significant role in the lives of amaMpondo. The knowledge and skill required from these is passed down from generation to generation. At a young age boys would learn how to carve using wood e.g. to make stools, headrests, doors for the huts, musical instruments (e.g. isigubhu, uhadi and umrhubhe) musical bows, assegais (imikhonto), knobkirries (amaqakala), and one would also find them making cows made of clay, thus also enhancing their creative side. The physical act of carving was hard work, demanding physical fitness and strength, hence this chore was reserved for males. Women were responsible for the production of utilitarian objects.

Girls were expected to learn how to use grass to make, for example, household utensils, clothing, beads for accessories as well as pottery using clay to make pots amongst others. Grass is essential in the Mpondo Kingdom and plays a very instrumental role as it is used largely in making household utensils. The pot used for drinking beer, iqaku in Mpondo language, was originally made of grass. Other examples of utensils made of grass include but not limited to the Mpondo basket (ingobozi) which was used to gather cultivated food, the collecting basket (ingceke/ Umnyazi), isihluzo/ intluzo used as a beer strainer, isithebe which is used to serve meat, sitting mat (ukhukho) and isicamba, which is bigger in size and is used as a bed.

In the olden days it was also used as a coffin, put on the ground before the body which was covered with hide of the cow slaughtered for the funeral ritual is put. Even though most people in the present day use western beds, however it is still used on special traditional occasions e.g. by girls who are undergoing initiation. For the duration of the time they are kept in the hut before the coming out ceremony (umngquzo), they sleep on the grass mat. This also applies to young initiates who are training to be traditional healers.

A much bigger version of isithebe which is put under the grinding stone (isigubo) is used as a grinding mat. Isigubo is made of stone and is used to grind dry corn to create maize meal.  The base where you put dry corn is made of bigger flat stone and the stone used for grinding is slightly smaller and oval in shape. Grass is also used for building the roof of a Mpondo hut. At the centre of the hut which is used as an anchor is a pole made of wood called intsika.

Wood as explained earlier plays a very important role in the lives of Mpondo people as it is used to build huts, or storage rooms (idladla) or kitchen utensils e.g. wooden spoon (uthiniko) as well as cultivating spades amongst others. Isingqusho which is used to grind soft corn is made of wood. The grinding utensil is made of iron. Wood is also used for fire. In Mpondo culture, it is the responsibility of young girls to go and gather wood and arrange them in a bundle (inyanda), put the bundle of long sticks on their head and transport it home. The fire is used primarily for cooking and for warmth.

AmaMpondo also have their own pottery as explained earlier for example Mpondo pots called iqengqe and ikhanzi or ungxawu. Ungxawu is a three legged pot. Other utensils used in Mpondoland are machets (ucelemba in Mpondo language), axe (izembe), hoe (ikhuba), noxhaka used to catch mice. All these are made of wood. The handle of the axe and the hoe are made of wood while the heads/ blades are made of iron. Axes are used to cut trees.




February/March 2020

















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