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Water Container

A work made of terracotta, slip, and kaolin.

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  • A work made of terracotta, slip, and kaolin.


Late 19th/mid–20th century


Northern Africa and the Sahel

About this artwork

Somono pottery is an ancient tradition that is distinguished by its detailed embellishment, which combines raised bands with impressed and incised patterns. Archaeological excavations have revealed pottery dating from the eleventh to seventeenth century, made in the same principal forms and employing the same basic building and decorating techniques that are seen today.

The Somono developed as a social group perhaps as early as the thirteenth century, when the ruling Bamana conscripted or recruited them from various ethnic groups and put them to work on the river. Today Somono are found across the Inland Niger Delta, and although some speak Bamana, many speak the Bozo language. This may explain why the Somono are sometimes considered a subgroup of the Bozo and why scholars occasionally identify their pottery as Bozo. To assist them in their work, Somono potters use a turntable that is made from a shallow bowl placed on an oiled surface. This acts as a very slow wheel, allowing the potter to shape and smooth her vessel as it spins. A small saucer holds the clay in place on the turntable, and the potter uses this as a mold to first shape the base by pressing clay into it, then adding clay in coils to build up the walls and neck.

Large decorative water containers such as this one continue to be made today. Throughout the region such pieces are intended for public display and are usually placed in a prominent location in a family’s courtyard. A Somono woman is often given a water container upon marriage, and it remains an important piece of her household furniture throughout her lifetime. The closely spaced lines and dots that make up the patterns on this jar have been incised with a metal comb and impressed with wooden sticks and stamps. Red slip was applied to the pot before firing, and afterwards a white mixture of kaolin and water was rubbed into the patterns to enhance them. These time-consuming techniques were still in use by some older Somono potters in the 1990s, although slip-painted designs are presently gaining popularity throughout the region.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




Water Container


Mali (Object made in)


Made 1875–1950


Terracotta, slip, and kaolin


59.7 × 41.9 cm (23 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Keith Achepohl

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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