Batwa Pots in Burundi: Traditional Clay Pot Cuisine, Pt. 1 of 2

 [First posted in 2009, Updated 25 October 2011]

The Batwa pygmies of central Africa were the earliest inhabitants of the area, being later joined by Bantu agriculturalists who migrated over time from West Africa.

Areas of pygmy habitation. Roger Blench

As hunter-gathers, theirs has been a nomadic lifestyle of the forest and surrounding areas. Over several thousand years, Batwa in our area became the specialists paramount in the making of clay cooking pots for the settled Bantu communities, from whom cultivated crops and other items would be traded for the pots.

Early explorers and colonialists generally portrayed the pygmy as bazaar anachronisms, an attitude that severely held back their access to education, medical care, and economic assistance .  This negative attitude toward pygmies continues in some areas today..

Below photo: African pygmies and Prof. K. G. Murphy. Source: Collier’s New Encyc. 1921

But the colonial vision – still shared by many who would romanticize ‘Pygmy‘ – is far from today’s reality.

A Batwa family in front of their moveable home, together with a little goat purchased with money earned from pot sales.

Today, pot-making continues to provide important income for the families, although plastic and metal are replacing them in many areas. Even so, people will tell you that clay-pot cooking is far superior in flavour and nearly every rural home has a few Batwa pots.

This blog is a little photo-tour of the pot-production process.

It is the women who are the potters. Men are responsible for the extraction and transport of clay, which is a heavy and time-consuming task. All of the other work is up to the women.

The pots are made of clay that is collected from a wetlands located on the other side of the hills, in back.

Men collecting clay in local wetlands. Reclamation of wetlands for rice production is quickly removing their source of clay. Source:

Mixing clay with sand and other products using the heel. This is sometimes accompanied by singing in time with heel-work, to ease the chore.

The clay is mixed with sand and is trampled upon. The technique used for making pots is known as Colombina. The potter superimposes the chunks of clay and combines them with a spatula – which is usually a piece of gourd. While still wet, the exterior walls of the pots are decorated by using a small braid of rush.

The pots are placed to dry, about a week, sometimes in the shade, sometimes in the sun. Firing of the pots is performed the eve of the market. First, dry grass is burned inside the pots to prevent excessive temperature difference between the inside and outside.

Fabrication of pots

Pots made by hand, no wheels are used. Then, set out to dry for a week or two

Dry herbs, grasses and small twigs are collected by women and children to be used in firing the pots.

Then, the pottery is piled on a bed made of sticks or stones and ancient pottery and is covered with dry grass. The firing lasts one to two hours. The potter removes each pot with a long pole and sprinkles water mixed with ash.

The pots are fired first on the inside, and then on the outside, using only grasses and twigs. Source: Claude Guillet

The pots will be brought to market the next day to be sold or exchanged.

Pots are then carefully packed, to be transported by head to the local market. Source: Claude Guillet

Pot section of a large, local market in Ruyigi Provence, eastern Burundi.

A pot this size sells for about twenty-five cents. Much cheaper than plastic or metal!

The Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika purchases these pots for the gardens; I organize their purchase and transport in collaboration with an NGO that works in eastern Burundi where these Batwa groups are located.

Part Two – click here.

Diverse microbes in Pygmy saliva (

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-General, Batwa, Burundi, Colonialism, Cuisine, East central Africa, Environment, Explorers & exploration, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Humanitarian Assistance, Pottery production, Technology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Batwa Pots in Burundi: Traditional Clay Pot Cuisine, Pt. 1 of 2

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  9. Amazing, Diana! They look almost identical to Greek neolithic clay pots, those which were fired in open fire!


    • dianabuja says:

      The basic technology would be very similar – but of course decoration and shape will alter by area and over time.


  10. Melly says:

    That is amazing..25 cents for all that work. I want one…but I’d pay more than 25 cents!


    • dianabuja says:

      Melly – Yes, it sounds very cheap; but in a country where rural folks make less than one dollar a day, it is actually a lot of money!


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  12. maria v says:

    loved this – something quite different


    • dianabuja says:

      Thanks, Maria – I’ll be going back up in a few weeks to work out arrangements for more pots, and possibly some training from an Italian pottier who’s here for a few weeks.


  13. Fascinating Diana. They use a similar firing method in parts of Mexico.


    • dianabuja says:

      And it is also similar for the ‘ulla (qulla) water pots in Egypt – at least, traditionally so. It seems there are only so many ways to fire pots, given these very basic conditions.


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