Chic African Culture Blog

African Clay Oil Lamp Tutorial

Clay oil lamps in Africa are used for utilitarian, ritualistic, and symbolic purposes.

African Clay Oil Lamp Tutorial

In Africa for millions of years, people captured naturally occurring fire, tended it, and preserved it for long periods. Fire is important not only for warmth and for cooking, but for light. Currently, nearly 662 million Africans lack access to electricity. Throughout Africa, only 43% of urban and rural households have access to reliable electricity.

Some of the earliest lamps were stones with depressions in which animal fats were likely burned as a source of light.
Clay oil lamp

It is very hard to do anything once the daylight is gone. Some of the earliest lamps were stones with depressions in which animal fats were likely burned as a source of light.  Shells, such as conch or oyster, were also used as lamps. Manufactured lamps are not always cost effective and readily available. Many households use simple molds or hand forming techniques to make clay lamps.

Clay Oil Lamp Tutorial Materials and Directions

Materials

• Waterproof air-dry clay, the amount depends on the size of your lamp

• 100% cotton fabric for the wick, 4 inches wide, and the length depends on the size of your lamp

• Olive oil enough to fill the lamp

• Scissors

Directions

Olive oil lamps are simple to make and nearly any shape can be used, as long as it holds oil without leaking or spilling and has a spout and a filling hole. Once your lamp is shaped to your liking, follow directions on the clay package to cure and harden it. 

Throughout Africa, only 43% of urban and rural households have access to reliable electricity.
Reading by candlelight

The simplest shape is a saucer lamp. Raised edges hold the oil, and a single depression in the rim forms the wick spout. Cut a piece of cotton cloth 3/4” wide and the exact length depends on the size of your lamp. Braid or twist the cloth in a tightly spiraled wick. Fill the lamp with olive oil.

Insert the wick into the lamp’s spout positioning the wick so it extends from the bottom of the oil lamp to approximately 1/2” above the spout. Trim the excess if any with scissors. Be sure the wick is saturated with oil before lighting. Use your handmade clay lamp under adult supervision only. Oil lamps may set off smoke detectors.

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Being African in America I have grown up learning about different ethnic cultures. My father and mother are historians of African culture and history and their influence expanded my activities to several best-selling cookbooks, magazine columns, self-branded products, and a popular African culture and food blog.

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