African & Tribal Art :
African Pottery : Djenne Terracotta Vessel
Djenne Terracotta Vessel - PF.4522
Origin: Central Mali
14.5" (36.8cm) high
x 13.75" (34.9cm) wide
Location: United States
| Photo Gallery
Removed from the alluvial soil of the Niger
delta, between the cities of Segou and Timbuktu,
extraordinary statues and pottery came into the
light that have few parallels in the world. To
understand the pottery, such as this exquisite
example, we should first examine the statuary.
They depict individuals in a seated position with
hands on their knees. Their eyes are either
squinting or bulging; in either case giving the
impression of someone in a trance. The most
amazing feature is there are snakes everywhere,
climbing up their backs, appearing from orifices,
noses and ears, with one extraordinary example
of a woman giving birth to a snake. The
implication is that these statues are part of a
very ancient snake cult which flourished in
certain regions. The figures may be priests who
are in a drug induced trance and the snakes
represent those which crawled over his body, as
they still do in various parts of India today. It is
conceivable this vessel was part of a snake-
priest's ritual paraphernalia and large enough to
have contained a number of serpents!
Circling the vessel is a long and graceful snake,
twisting and turning in a very beautiful pattern.
It's positioning at the upper portion gives the
lower portion greater depth and dimension. The
entire object is both delicate and massive at
once. Almost primordial, it seems to have 'grown'
from the earth, like an exotic plant or flower
blooming in the desert, with creatures of the
soil, snake and lizard, delicately gracing its body.
Snakes were, and are still, believed to be
messengers of spirits and deities. This beautiful
vessel sends a clear message from a mysterious
land and a mystical cult, which somehow
connects with something very human and
elemental in all of us.