Professor Ben Jobe
18 April 2013
The Igbo people are an African tribe that occupies a region in southeastern Nigeria. In their language, "udu" means pot. And that's exactly what these drums originally were: simple water pots. A potter once struck an extra hole in its side while crafting a water pot and discovered the beautiful sound that resulted from it. This musical pot has many different names in Nigeria: udu, abang mbre (pot for playing) or kim kim, just to name a few. Traditionally, only Igbo women produce udu’s and other pottery. Why only the ladies? Because pottery is too dangerous for men: The needed clay is collected in sacred locations. The presence of a man in those secret spots would be a serious offense and cause him to become - impotent! At least that's what the tradition says. Or maybe the women just used this to keep the Igbo men out away. In fact, pottery was a very profitable business in Igbo land. Every single person depended on pots to fetch water, to cook, to store palm wine, to eat soup, to wash hands, and for rituals. Whether the women intentionally kept the business to themselves or not, selling pots was certainly their great source of income. It improved their power and social status. Unfortunately though, this profitable business for Igbo women is a thing of the past: The wave of plastic products from East and West has hit Africa. Like other African percussion instruments, udus’ have religious functions. The Igbo also use clay pots and other pottery ware for rituals and ceremonies. It can be hard for us Westerners to imagine what that means. Here are some examples of who may set up a traditional shrine and why: a woman that is unable to have a child, a family that suffers from sickness or poverty, or a community that is threatened by war or natural disasters. The pottery and other sacred items become a medium for spirits, ancestors and gods. The Igbo make prayers and sacrifices...