By Erukpe Edna
Pottery is the combination of pots, dishes and receptacles that are hand-built with clay and fired in a clamp or open fire to make them functional, durable and permanent.
According to historians and archeologists, pottery is the artistic manifestation of man
The Yoruba pottery processes and products have their uniqueness, but pottery making in Owo is stands out.
Owo is a town in Ondo State of Nigeria and it is situated half way between Ile-Ife and Benin city. In its present position, Owo town is only one hundred and four kilometers from Benin and also one hundred and four kilometers from Ile-Ife. Owo is at the inter section of roads from Akure, Kabba and Benin city.
Pottery has gained prominence in Owo due to its uses in cultural activities.
Pottery in Owo is predominantly practiced by the women folk, and it is usually passed from mothers to their children. Traditionally, men are not involved in indigenous pot making , but they do assist their wives in clay prospecting and digging. Male children also collect clay, water, firewood and straws for their mothers. The indigenous pottery activities usually take place in ‘Ebu’, ,described as a place consisting of series of sheds and work areas in the town or village. Generally, most workshops are located very close to the place where raw materials are sourced.
Pottery is classified into five distinct stages: clay digging, preparation, moulding, drying and firing. A lead potter in Owo, Janet Babatunde Owoye, said the number of processes depend on types of pots produced and techniques involved in one town or the other. However, Janet Babatunde Owoye said pottery in Owo involves nineteen (19) distinct stages. which are digging; collecting it, cutting, soaking, mashing, kneeling, opening, coiling, consolidating, expanding the belly, shaping the pot, scraping the pot, smoothening of the pot, drying, colour application, pre heating, stacking, actual firing and off- loading of pots
It starts with digging which is done by men then transported back to the workplace or Ebu, where the clay is spread on the floor to get dry before clay preparation process begins.
Most indigenous Owo potters interviewed established that clay preparation was the most procedural task in pottery, because success in firing pot was determined by clay used.
Two distinct moulding methods have been identified in Yoruba-land, the direct and indirect methods . The direct moulding method does not require any pre-mould. It is done directly from onset, while moulding or cooling method is used to complete it.
The processes involved in direct method are opening, cooling, consolidating the rim, expanding the belly shaping the pot, scraping the pot and lastly smoothening the pot. The direct methods allows the use of pre-mould on which the base of a new post is cast and the pot is completed with only cooling method.
The processes involved in an indirect method are rolling clay into ball, making it into a flat surface, moulding on pre- mould, cooling, forming and smoothening of the outer surface. The cooling method is perhaps one of the commonest methods employed in indigenous pot making in Owo. It is a process of building up the wall of the pot with superimposed rolls of clay coils. Coil is a long rope like form, which is added to the top of leather hard pots or rims.
However, moulding and cooling methods are commonly used in wall building, but cooling is utilized at some level to complete most pots which have been started with either direct or indirect method. The direct moulding method is greatly adopted in Owo and Upenmen in Owo Local Government of Ondo state. Also the pinching method is another one which is also very important, because it is the elementary way of making tiny form of pot moulding. It is adopted for the making of smaller cups and bowls, most especially the local oil lamp and safe pot.
The drying of pots involved ‘fiside, fisoorun and ferowo’. Drying is the stage that precedes firing. Drying is necessary, otherwise when the pots are fired, stem will form around the walls, and this can cause pots to break and explode during firing. drying occurs in stage. The first stage is the leather hard. Pot is exposed to sunlight or air for some hours to striffen to a state where it can be blended, textured, scrapped and burned. Definitely, the bottom or rims of new pots are left to harden or dry a little so that the pots will be strong enough to receive further loads of clay. Naturally, Sunlight and air are used to dry pots but it is based on pot size, weather and the thickness of the pot as well.
Pottery in Owo is significant, due to its importance in both domestic and ritual uses. Domestic pottery in Owo includes cooking pots, water storage pots, dishes and cups. Prominent among Owo pottery are the clay pots which come in different sizes, but the ritual pots are meant for sacrifice.
Ajere is a pot made of clay and has many holes all over the body. It is mostly used for worship and stunning of melon seeds and locust beans. It is a perforated clay pot. It was mostly used by the people of Isaipen in the time past to wash their melon seeds and locust beans in the river.
The clamp Fitila Oloja Merindinlogun is used for illumination at night during traditional ceremonies and light fire for rituals which empower worshippers or hunters to be protected when on war front or hunting expedition. Also during the Igogo festival in Owo in time past, the search party used the fitila but the advent of modern technology has resulted in the use of tourch-lights.
Isaasun Agbebi was used as container for placenta and to pray for the child long life before burning it in the past.
Water storage pot (Ikoko Omi or Amu) is used to store water collected from the river, streams, rain because it is believed that water stored inside pot is always cold.
Ikoko Agbo (concoction pot); is a pot usually filled up with herbs and roots of various kind. There are many herbs and roots in Owo which when cooked in the pottery pot are believed to be more potent than the ones prepared inside modern pots.
Isaipen Obe(cooking pots) Generally in Yourbaland, it is believed that soups cooked in clay pots taste better than the ones in aluminum pots.
Flower Vases:- Flower vases are made of clay due to the ability to put inscriptions on them to affirm royalty,like the one sighted in the Olowo’s palace.
One of the challenges of pottery in Owo is low patronage. Most houses prefer the unbreakable and sophisticated pots to the traditional pots.
The profession which is very famous among the women is suffering a set back, due to lack of interest. Nobody wants to take over the profession. As a result, it is going into extinction.
The relevance of pottery in Owo cannot be over emphasized, due to the cultural and domestic value to the people.
However, the Upenmen people in Owo still engages in pottery and they claim it has been their family business majorly passed from one generation to the other.
The Owo pottery is facing problem due to the advent of plastic and steel factories which produce domestic wares, which are now taking over the market. The clay pot is a traditional legacy and one of the surviving crafts in Owo the artistic prowess exhibited by the Owo people which must not be allowed to go into extinction. Government must motivate indigenous potters to continue to contribute to the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. Ladi Kwail, the legendary potter, gained international recognition in pottery and transversed the world with her creative pottery skills. Therefore, government should encourage pottery in Ondo State and Nigeria at large to prevent its extinction.