[First posted in 2009, Updated 25 October 2011]
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.
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 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.
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 will be brought to market the next day to be sold or exchanged.
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.
Diverse microbes in Pygmy saliva (dienekes.blogspot.com)