Vol 27 No 2 (2018): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Culture

Of Pools and Birds: Celebrating Motherhood in the First Millennium

Jean-Marie Dederen
Jennifer Mokakabye
Nordic Journal of African Studies
Published November 20, 2018
  • Schroda,
  • figurine art,
  • gender constructs,
  • female empowerment,
  • folklore,
  • ritual pedagogy
  • ...More


The archaeological remains of Schroda, a well known Iron Age settlement in the Limpopo valley, include one of the largest and best documented caches of figurine art in southern Africa (Hanisch 1980). These small prehistoric clay models of humans and animals, it has been proposed persuasively, formed part of the didactic equipment of an initiation school (Hanisch 2002). Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that images of birds distinctly outnumber most of the other figurine types, their particular symbolic meaning and function have remained unexplored. It is argued here that, during their rites of passage, nubile girls, or their mothers, modelled water birds in clay to mark and celebrate the close affinity between women, life giving potency and sacred pools.