Zulu Spoon

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PKK 0607-1

Zulu Spoon, South Africa

L: 31,5 cm (12,4″)

Provenance: From a Danish collection.

In Zulu custom, a little food or drink was spilled or “fed” to the ancestors. Because of this religious significance, utensils and containers were not spiritually neutral.

Zulu spoons are subtly figurative. The bowl of the spoon is like a beautiful female head, with a pointed chin and a slender neck. Some spoons have a phallic terminal, balancing the genders, and a pyramidal motif, known as amasumpa (literally “warts”). Amasumpa was associated with cattle, and may allude to the contract of cattle payment that cemented Zulu marriage. A spoon thus suggests the union of men and women through cattle.

This symbolism is reinforced by a ceremony held some time after the bride has moved to her new husband’s homestead. The man’s family gives her a spoon and her family a goat, called the “goat of the spoon.” These gifts signify that she is now truly integrated and may finally consume curdled milk from her husband’s cattle, using the spoon so provided.

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