Ceramics - Oil lamps (masābīħ)

Origin and time: Algeria, Great Kabylia, Ouadhia; second half of 19th century
Museum of Ethnology, Vienna
Inv. No. VO_123214 (Emil Benedikt)

Apart from woven objects and jewellery, especially home made pottery was one of the traditional Berber crafts in northern Africa. Contrary to urban manufactures, Berber women shaped their pottery without using a wheel. The objects were dried until they were ”leather-hard”, then coated with white or red colour (engobed), and subsequently painted with mineral and resin colours. The decoration shows mainly abstract geometric patterns, either linear or curvilinear. The motifs were expressions of regional or parentage affiliation. The same motifs as painted on the pottery can be found on tattoos, carpets and talismans, serving as protection against the “evil eye”.

The objects were dried directly over a fire. Kilns were unknown, as was generally the case for “women pottery” in the Eastern World. This type of oil lamps was used at wedding ceremonies to protect the newly wed and to ensure fertility, and also at rites performed to celebrate the New Year.