Recently I have had cause to reflect on the nature of life. It is fragile, beautiful, difficult and endlessly interesting. In the context of KUDU our homes are filled with objects that in the words of de-clutter queen Marie Kondo ‘spark joy’. I am surrounded by items that give me comfort, tell a story and engage my curiosity. As the mornings become sharp and carry a chill I start my day with a strong cup of tea and the evenings slowly draw in it is time to curl up on the sofa with a ‘cuppa’ and a good Netflix show. Well-brewed tea is, in my opinion essential for life itself. For the perfect brew I use my beloved enamelware teapot.
Recently in some of the trendiest homeware stores in London I have come across enamelware. About ten years ago the only place one could find it was in a hardware store or in a cheap open-air market. Not anymore. Something that was once associated with a cheap, utilitarian, old-fashioned way of life is now back.
Enamelware is vitreous porcelain that is bonded to metal by firing it at high temperatures. This creates a hard-wearing and functional product capable of resisting high temperatures and is fairly easy to clean. Our beautiful Afrodelft enamelware products are among our best-sellers. They are made in South Africa and scratch-resistant with quirky African-themed designs. Why is it called Afrodelft? Delftware is famous high-quality and highly sought-after porcelain that comes from the Delft area of the Netherlands. Afrodelft is a tongue-in-cheek reference to this, keeping the similar white-and-blue or two-tone colour and adding an ‘Afro’ twist by using enamelware, which is very popular in Africa.
CLICK HERE to shop our range of Afrodelft teapots and enamelware
It is interesting to look back at the historical significance of the introduction of enamelware to the African marketplace. The colonisation of Africa brought much that was awful, many will agree. However, we cannot look away from that fact that it accelerated a ‘globalisation’, for better and for worse. Enamelware was once a symbol of conspicuous consumption in Africa. Goods making their way to the African continent were also popular and available to households in other parts of the world. Enamelware is an example of such goods, replacing the clay pots and bowls that had been used previously. Footnote credit p246 The Objects of Life in Central Africa: The History of Consumption and Social Change 1840-1980: Robert Ross, Leiden University, Marja Hinfelaar, Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, Zambia and Iva Peša, Leiden University
In small trading stores across Africa shopkeepers, sometimes African but often Indian, Portuguese or Greek would stock life essentials, and this included enamelware. Thus it found its way onto even the remotest farm and humblest of homes.
Now for the heavy part: It should also be remembered that in South Africa during the Apartheid years many white households would have a cup in their kitchen that was ‘the maid’s cup’. Often this was a tin enamel cup. It was reserved for the maid, the gardener or visiting black people who might come to the door. Such was the racism that was engrained in South African society that white people and black people could not drink out of the same cup. Black people had to have a completely different cup so as not to ‘contaminate’. It is a deeply uncomfortable and even painful thing to remember but it is worth acknowledging with honesty. *(Before I receive indignant emails from people about this; my father remembers being given such a separate tin cup to drink out as a young man of when visiting white households)
While we can acknowledge even the less positive South African recent historical association it should also be possible to also embrace the revival in popularity enamelware is enjoying globally as a product category that is attractive, functional and very hardwearing. It is fragile if dropped from a height onto a hard floor(remember the part at the top where I mentioned about enamelware being metal coated with a liquid porcelain or enamel fired at high temperatures? Well that means it will chip if you throw it out of a window!) but treat it kindly and it will last a lifetime.
The African continent is the source of many good tea varieties. The one I always have in my cupboard is Rooibos, ‘Redbush’ as it is often referred to. Grown only in South Africa and exclusive to the Cedarburg region rooibos is a plant called Aspalathus linearis.
Discovered by the Khoisan, the original inhabitants of South Africa who loved its taste and also used it for medicinal purposes. It is caffeine-free and has an aroma that is reminiscent of honey without the sweetness. Rooibos is usually drunk without milk (although some people do take milk with it) but sometimes with sugar and a little squeeze of lemon. In the best-selling book series written by Alexander McCall Smith, the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency which is set in the beautiful country of Botswana the heroine, Mma Ramotswe always has a pot of rooibos tea nearby to help her along. It is a gentle, entertaining series that is not so much about crime-solving but about humanity and everyday kindness. There are several mentions in the book series about the enamel teapot she uses.
Photo credit: www.watchthetitles.com
If you do not know rooibos tea, go out and find it. Most good tea shops will sell it. Brew a pot and think of the Khoisan who discovered the properties of the rooibos plant. Reflect on the journey a simple enamelware object would make from factory to trader to farm. Follow the journey of an innocuous item through tumultuous times where it gained a negative association that has now swung back to fashionable and functional again. In the home even the simplest objects can acquire deep historical, political and sentimental significance.
Yours, bringing Africa home.
Footnote credits: p246 The Objects of Life in Central Africa: The History of Consumption and Social Change 1840-1980: Robert Ross, Leiden University, Marja Hinfelaar, Southern African Institute for Policy and Research, Zambia and Iva Peša, Leiden University