Storage vessels such as this rare and beautifully carved wooden vessel with its fluted interlace pattern were the preserve of chiefs and other persons of stature within the tribe. As there is no 19th century field evidence, it remains unclear what was stored in them but given the similarity of its fine surface carving to the patterns found on traditional Zulu snuff wooden snuff boxes, it has been suggested that they were used for storing tobacco or snuff. They were also given as ‘diplomatic gifts’ to visiting Europeans and missionaries, the source of most Zulu storage vessels found in Western museums and collections. Similar examples were on display in the Great Exhibition in London in 1862.
All known examples including similar in the British Museum date to the mid 19th century or a bit later. They appear on the market very rarely, especially in more recent decades. Only a very few have come up at auction in the last 20 years but a similar piece with a more dramatic lid and longer legs sold for €34,350 at Sotheby’s Paris on the 30th November 2010