Bembe Milk Vessels

For many tribes in Central Africa including the Bembe, Hima and Tutsi, cattle herding was an essential aspect of life. The animals provided transport, agricultural necessities, income and food. Their milk was especially important as a source of nutrition. They were collected in wooden vessels, cylindrical in shape among the Bembe and Tutsi; the Hima crafted them with a slightly flared base called Ekyanzi. The walls of the vessels were made as thin as possible to allow maximum storage, making them valuable objects that were well worth fixing when damaged. Fissures were repaired with small tabs of metal in a zipper-like pattern while larger cracks were covered with elegantly shaped sheets. The vessels were capped with tightly woven and colorfully decorated fiber tops while the bodies were occasionally incised with geometric designs reminiscent of tribal scarification marks. Though utilitarian in function, their sleek forms and design simplicity have made them attractive adornments for contemporary interiors.