Proverb pot lid



Woyo peoples
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General Description

A snake wrapped around a woman it is beginning to swallow is carved in high relief on the surface of this wooden disk. A spiral shell and a seedlike object complete this intriguing composition.

Essentially a decorative cover for an earthenware bowl, proverb lids (mataampha; sing. taampha) also facilitate nonverbal communication among family members through their proverbial imagery. Woyo used proverb pot lids to express feelings, or to scold or advise a spouse or children in specific situations. If there was a disagreement between spouses, the wife would express her adverse opinion at mealtimes by bringing her husband's food in a bowl covered with an appropriate lid. He would get the message without her having to say a word. This one expresses, "A python swallowed someone, but we only heard about it," advising one to be wary of rumors. The other images advise the viewer not to hold a grudge and to reconcile disputes.

Proverb lids were valued as works of art and made to order by local sculptors in consultation with an nkotikunda, a master of Woyo proverbs and their imagery. In addition to restoring domestic harmony, pot lids endorsed the status of chiefs, provided a visual record of historical events, communicated declarations of war, and served as reminders of debts.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
  • Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2013.

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