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Zulu Baskets

The Legacy of the Nala Family

Located in the town of Eshowe deep in Thukela valley, in a remote part of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the Nala legacy began more than 75 years ago, with Ntobi Khumalo, who taught her daughter, Siphiwe, the fine art of pot making. These pots were made for local use in the surrounding villages.  This knowledge was then passed on from Siphiwe to her daughter Nesta Nala, who at the tender age of twelve first learned how to hand coil, burnish and fire the clays dug from the surrounding area.

Most Zulu pots are blackened after the firing, this is largely for ritualistic purposes as the ancestors hide in dark, shady places. In time, through daily use, the pots develop a warm, brown, glossy patina characteristic of Zulu pots.  Traditionally, three sizes were most common: the large Imbiza pot was used for brewing, the Ukhamba pot used for serving and the Umancishana pot size was used for cooking meat, storing water and grain and for drinking sour milk. 

As the case with Zulu baskets, so too has Zulu pots moved from mainstream usage, to the high-end world of handcrafted collectibles. The patterns and decoration on the pots vary according to family and region. Usually one can distinguish two styles of decoration: incised decoration and raised decoration.  The Nala family has incorporated both styles into their pots.

In recent years the Nala family has become world renowned through the many awards bestowed on the now deceased family matriarch Nesta Nala. Unlike other traditional Zulu potters, Nesta displayed an innovative artistic edge to her craft by incorporating both incised and raised designs on each of her pots. She gained international recognition by representing South Africa at the Cairo International Biennial for Ceramics in 1994. Nesta also won first prize in the FNB Vita Craft Competition in 1995 and also in the National Ceramics Biennial in 1996.

Nesta has passed the family’s pot-making tradition to her daughters, Jabu, Thembi and Zanele.   Although each daughter has her own particular style, they all sign their work; a feature unique to Zulu potters.  Today, the tradition has passed on to their daughters, and thus continuing the Nala legacy.

These beautiful pieces by the award-winning Nala family of Eshowe, continue to be crafted using techniques passed down through the generations. Their unique one-of-a-kind high quality crafts reside in many South African public and private collections, and are highly sought after by international collectors.

A beautifully hand-crafted work... inspires.