The Chagga people of Tanzania are mountain people, who live on and in the shadow of Kilimanjaro – Northern Tanzania. They once believed in Sheuta and ancient creator god who formed the human race as a potter creates earthen vessels.
Even to this day people talk of the process of pot making is comparable to the creation of life in a woman’s womb. In the villages of Tanzania, usually the women folk are the potters. This profession is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. Typically men do not participate in this trade.
The clay is dug out of the earth in large clumps, using a traditional hoe; this is back breaking work. These large pieces of clay are then taken home and broken into smaller lumps, water is added to make the clay more supple to work with. The consistency must be easy to work with – being very careful not to make it too wet. This is achieved by pummeling and needing the clay. A ball of clay is formed, then working quickly, turning and working the clay with the whole hand, fingers, and palms, continually tuning the container in a rhythmic manner – this process is completed surprisingly quickly. Once finished time is spent on the details, some potters marking their pots to make them distinct. The larger pots are made from producing long sausage shaped coils and these coils are wound around and around to from a pot. The sides are smoothed with water to remove the corrugated effect. Many home made tools are used in this process, scrapers, knives twigs and bits of timber.
The pots are then put in the shade to dry which can take up to four days for the larger pots. The pots are fired by covering them with wood and dried fragments of banana tree and the pot is half fired half smoked, this process takes an hour or two.
Once the fire has died down the pots are carefully removed from the ashes whilst still very hot. They are rubbed with leaves to give them a distinct colour and to seal them. Many of these pots will be used to cook food over an open fire.
These women are very talented at what they do although for all the effort and hard work not to mention talent a pot can be purchased for a dollar or maybe two.