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Water Container (Chilongo Chakumuto)

A work made of terracotta and kaolin.

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  • A work made of terracotta and kaolin.


Mid–/late 20th century


Eastern and Southern Africa

About this artwork

The Makonde of Northern Mozambique are known for their large, intricately ornamented pottery jars, and while these are increasingly being supplanted today by other, less-fragile containers, some people still prefer them for transporting and storing water. Hence, these handsome vessels continue to be made for domestic use, and their beauty has also led to their production for the commercial art market. Made on commission, such vessels were among the most treasured possession of Makonde women.
The water jar is the Makonde potter’s favored stage for virtuoso expressions of creativity, such that no two pots ever receive the same overall design. After a piece has been built up of coils and then smoothed, shaped, and left to dry for several hours, it is painted with a mica-rich wash of earth, charcoal, and water, which gives it a distinctive, speckled gray-black color. Once this colored wash has been absorbed, the potter burnishes the surface with a stone until it is hard and smooth. At this point the water pot is ready to be meticulously embellished with incised designs.
The Makonde word for drawing on pottery, nkova, is the same word they use for tattooing, once a widespread practice with important ritual significance, and many visual similarities exist between these two art forms. The potter marks the outlines of the pattern—a combination of straight and curved bands, zigzags, triangles, and semicircles—and then fills it in with light hatch marks, punctured lines, or more deeply impressed triangles. Another woman may sometimes assist her in this lengthy process. Finally, after firing it in the open, the maker may accentuate the designs by rubbing kaolin into them.

—Entry, For Hearth and Altar, African Ceramics from the Keith Achepohl Collection (2005), pp. 97-99.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Water Container (Chilongo Chakumuto)


Mozambique (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Terracotta and kaolin


58.4 × 63.5 cm (23 × 25 in.)

Credit Line

Purchased with funds provided by Mrs. Stanley M. Freehling

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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