Unique Way of Making Black Pottery by The Women Folk of Meghalaya

Women play a vital role in society. Apart from taking care of household responsibilities, they are also talented, creative and skillful at work.

A team of discoverers from Muezart visited Lyrnai and Tyrshang village, in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya. We discovered how women from these villages make potteries using a process unique in the world.

The 2 villages, Lyrnai and Tyrchiang, are popular for their terracotta pottery.

The women of these villages are humble and hard-working. They live a simple lifestyle and are not economically well off, yet they are self-empowered and help each other out. They get together and formed a community, which is also called Self Help Groups. Through these Self-Help Groups, they achieved bigger things. They set up schools, raise up future potters and keep their traditions alive.

Pottery making is their main source of income. They produce exquisite handmade pottery that is not only famous in India but also in international countries, like Japan, Korea, and other places.

When we spoke to them, they were friendly and approachable, very hard working and determined ladies. Their workplace is a small playground and a shed where they keep their products. They like to work in a group, so they meet every day working and designing their pottery – laughing, joking and having fun while they work.

They bring their children with them and young moms carry their kids on their back. The children were running around the field while their mothers were sharing stories among them. The place is filled with happiness. We witnessed the joy on their faces, and love for their art.

Now, let’s find out what’s unique about these black earthen potteries.

How Is Black Pottery Made?

Things These Women DO NOT Use and Why?

One of the things that we discovered on our trip is that these women do not use the pottery wheel. Government organizations have introduced and set up pottery wheels for them, but they do not want to use them.

They do not use a mold of any kind. They shape the pottery with their bare hands, cutting, glazing and shaping them with their wooden tools.

Why?

They wanted to preserve their traditional way, which is only by using wooden tools and their hands throughout the process.

They believe that using other tools will make their work easier and faster, but they will not achieve their desired quality.

What Do These Women Use for Making Pottery?

They use two types of clay for making these earthen potteries. The clay is called alluvial clay, available in the alluvial region of the Sung Valley of West Jaintia Hills. The first type of clay is called the Silt pottery clay or the red clay and the second is the black clay.

Another peculiar ingredient used in making black pottery is the green stone called the serpentine stone. This green stone is found only from Sung Valley. It is crushed and sieved to fine powder form. This green stone powder is mixed and beaten together with the clay on a leather sheet to make the pottery stronger and resistant to thermal shock.

Unique Process of Making Black Clay Pottery

How Do These Women Make Their Pottery?

After thoroughly mixing clay with powdered greenstone, the clay is molded by hand into various shapes. No chemicals and no machines are used. After molding, they are dried in the shade. Once these pots dried up, they are polished and shoved in the fire.

They use firewood to bake the clay pottery using open-air firing process. This process makes the clay strong and firm without any breakage.

The next process makes these black potteries unique.

Unlike the general process of blackening the terracotta inside a kiln, the women of these villages used the bark of a tree, locally known as ‘Sohlia’ tree, scientifically called as Myrica nagi tree. The bark of this tree is crushed and mixed with cold water to form a milky solution. This solution works as a natural dye for the pottery. The hot sintered clay pottery is dipped into this milky solution which instantaneously turns it to permanently black color!

This process of dyeing the pottery is unique in the world and is called the miracle cold process of dyeing the clay pottery.

This ancient art of pottery making is handed from one generation to the next by these women. They do their bit to preserve it so this tradition goes on.

Hence, you will see that their pottery is purely handmade having an ethnic and rustic look.

These black clay potteries have no breakage issues and last for many years. Food cooked in clay potteries is tastier and healthier at the same time.

What kinds of pottery do these women make? What are they used for?

These women make earthen ware of different shapes and sizes – cups, plates, bowls, pots, water jars and many more. They mainly used for household purposes.

‘Khiew Ranei’ (in Khasi) or ‘Kchu Lyrnai’ (in Jaintia), the black terracotta pottery is used for making ‘Pu-maloi’ and ‘Pu-tharo’ which are two traditional snacks made from rice, very popular among the Khasi and Jaintia people. These black potteries are also used traditionally for religious purposes.

Government organizations and designers from other parts of India have taken interest to train these women to make other modern artistic designs which they then market to the rest of India and abroad.

Muezart's Take away From the Women of These Two Villages?

Muezart explorers learned our lesson from the women of these villages. Here are a few things:

  1. Despite the fast-moving modernization, love your tradition and do your best to keep it. Even though these women are learning modern designs, they keep their tradition close at heart.

  2. Be humble, work hard and be joyful. These women loved what they do, and they display true joy in their work. 

  3. Kids are fun to work with. These women never showed any kind of annoyance working with their kids around. They know how to bond their relationship with their kids while staying focused.

The end product that you get from their artwork is these beautifully hand-made, exquisite black pottery that signifies their love for traditions and the joy and dignity of work.

Muezart celebrates its works and aims to work together with them to help keep this ancient unique pottery-making alive.

Are you interested to buy unique black pottery from Meghalaya?


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