This iconic pot is one of 17 items made in the workshop of the potter Mbitim, at the sleeping sickness hospital at Lirangpiece u, South Sudan, on 28th April 1933. Mbitim was a Zande man (a cultural group spread through South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic) but we don’t know anything of his life before he came to the European hospital.

We don’t know if he was a patient, or just worked there. We know about him through his pots and their fine craftsmanship, that fused Zande traditions with those of the neighbouring Mangbetu culture, but in forms that would appeal to European travellers and collectors. Mbitim’s work demonstrates that the place and time in which he worked was a cross-roads of influences. 

The water pot is probably the most well-known of Mbitim’s designs and is identifiable in museum collections in Europe and the USA. Other items held in museums attributed to him may have been designed by him but produced by others under his direction – there is little known about his ‘workshop’. In addition to collecting many of his works, Percy Powell-Cotton filmed Mbitim making one of these water pots. It is the only visual record of Mbitim himself that has been identified.