It is unclear when the tradition of Zeer pots first emerged. Some say the tradition was introduced by the Arabs, while others say it dates back to the ancient Nubian civilisation. And it is showing no sign of dying out: Zeer pots are still a firm fixture in many contemporary Sudanese homes.
“We percolate water in Zeer pots to get desalinated clean healthy water,” said 50-year-old housewife Fatima Khalifa. “Water extracted from pits is often salty and river water is dirty and full of silt. Even with the advanced technology of piped water, we still rely on this method since it is easy and secure.”
The geometric shape of Zeer pots feeds the water through a porous clay filter which extracts impurities and salts. Clean water percolates through and is collected in containers placed under the Zeer.
Abdel Nasser Mahmoud, who researches water purification, said companies have adopted and adapted the Zeer tradition. “Water purification companies have benefited from the pottery’s characteristics to create their own pottery filters, adding some new materials and little adjustments.”
Many Sudanese still favour the traditional Zeer pot to store drinking water as it stays cool even in hot Sudanese temperatures. Water which has percolated through to the bottom of the Zeer is widely used for cooking, making hot drinks, washing and cleaning groceries as well as drinking. It is even considered clean enough for new born babies.