Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The 8th good thing about Northern Nigeria: Visiting a potter's village

We had a fascinating visit to Dawakin Tofa, a village of potters. Paulette, our trip organizer, became acquainted with this village in the 1980's and developed a relationship with one of the potters who was willing to demonstrate her technique when Paulette brought a tour group up to Kano.
This is the main road into the village. Notice the donkeys carrying their loads. The horizontal stacks of items in the background are baskets waiting to be traded.

We saw some motor bikes in the village, but also many push-bikes.

Each family has their own kind of compound, I think they said it's called a zaure. A man can have up to four wives. The man will have his own room and each wife will also have their own room for herself and her children. There is an open common area for cooking and pot-making. The women do the pot-making and the men are the traders.

Most of the houses in the village are mud and quite primitive.

We walked through the doorway, passed through a small room and went into the open area of the family compound. We were immediately followed by a crowd who wanted to watch us watching the potting demonstration.

Our potter began by gathering some stones and dirt and put it in a sifting bowl to sift out the larger rocks.

She took some clay (our guide said that they would find it wherever there is "stagnant water" -- basically anywhere there is earth and water, there are the materials for the pots.

We noticed how the ends of her fingers were like stubs. She had obviously worked very hard in the clay her whole life.

She mixed the sifted rocks with the clay "for strength" and kneaded them together. She would add a few drops of water and very quickly the clay went from crumbled pieces into a smooth ball.

She then took the ball of clay and went over to a round indentation in the ground and started to form the pot. She worked very quickly and using her tools, the rounded pot started to take shape.

She paddled it and brought the pot up higher and thinner.

She had a grooved tool that she hit against the upper edge of the pot to make her mark on the pot. Each potter in the village has their own trademark they put on the pots they make.

As she forms the pot, she sprinkles the powder in the bowl around the outside of the pot. The powder comes from Dala hill outside Kano. It seemed to be used to color the pot.

She is very proud to display the finished pot. The time on my photos show that it took her 16 minutes from start to finish.

There are cheers from fellow villagers!

She puts the pot down to dry in the sun. It must dry for a couple of days before it is fired.

The village audience grew bigger as the demonstration progressed.

We then left the potter's home and walked to the pot firing and storage area. Old and young joined the procession.

The villagers use other containers as well as their hand-made pots.

The local animals watched the crowd pass by.

The kilns were very interesting, because they weren't enclosed as I would expect. They were a round open room with walls about 4 feet high.

They would stack the pots inside the walls on a base to raise them up. They then put sticks and branches in around the pots. See the holes in the base of the walls? They would light the branches on fire and through those holes they would continue to feed the fire with more sticks.

We asked them several times if they covered the fire pit, but they said they leave it open and the fire doesn't get very hot, but they fire the pots for quite a long time, continuing to keep the fire going.

The individual marks on the pots are important because the pots from many makers are fired together in the oven and then stored together. Only when they are traded will the individual potter get her payment.

The village had quite a supply of pots stored up.

This pot with the pierced holes in the bottom is for carrying chickens. The one with the small hole could keep a bird.

This picture shows the bottom of these cooking pots.

The hole in the base is for the fire and each indentation would get a little oil and then the pot would be used to cook some kind of bean cake or other cake. It's a muffin tin (muffin pot?)!

The villagers were as interested in us as we were interested in their lifestyle.

We left the storage area and walked into the market area. Unfortunately it wasn't a market day -- that would have been fun to see! But beside the village, there is a large trading area. People come from other villages and bring their crops or wares and items are traded or sold.

Some of the market area has more permanent structures...

and some areas have more primitive shacks.


Joe the Potter said...

Thanks for the very tasty post.

Imam Ahmed Zubair said...

A good piece of work. I enjoyed every bit of the presentation. You may perhaps be interested to take a look at the minjibir weaving center at the minjibir local government area of the State.