Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Clinch into the Past; Potters of the Aos

Soaking Clay in a basin for molding 
Creativity and to create something practical have always been synonymous to the Nagas. Both men and women had the ability to make something for their everyday usage using Dao or with bare hands. It is indeed fascinating when we hear their stories about the making of crafts, when some old folks take us to the journey to the past with nostalgia on their faces, making us think that we are seated in author H.G. Wells ‘Time machine’.
Such a great story from time immemorial can be heard in Changki Village, some 40 kilometres away from Mokokchung. The village with a historic past itself stands proud upon a hilltop giving out a grand look beneath its footstool the majestic green valleys and budding paddy fields. Changki villagers were said to be from potters’ background, travelling from the east and finally settled at the present place which we now call Changki.
Flat wooden surface and a bamboo pole to beat the clay
It is interesting to know that among the Aos, Changki was the only village to practice pottery as a profession by women. During those times when head-hunting was practice none of the other neighbouring Ao villages invaded Changki rather they make close allies since the invasion of Changki implies no Earthen utensils for rest of the Aos.
Earthen pots were bartered with basic necessary items and foods which were not found in the village during the past. It was also said that those pots were used in relief when neighbouring Ao villages faced natural calamities and devastations. One of the most fascinating stories about these simple earthen pots was that during those formative years of Christianity these pots were one of the greatest weapons in spreading the Gospel.
Wooden sticks for beating the clay and mushroom shaped tool curved out of stone for molding the pots
Molded miniatures of clay ready for the fire
When asked about how these pots were made, they said that in the past the clay from where these earthen pots were made were found only on specific places and had never used the ordinary clay. Women had to search deep into the forest in search of this clay. It is indeed a breath taking experience that needs great amount of skills and patience after these clays are brought home. They beat the clay on a flat wooden surface with the help of a bamboo pole. A mushroom shaped tool curved out of stone is used to mould the shape and then striking with an arrow-head shaped wooden stick. The finished pots are made to dry in near the fire place for sometime and then taken out, making a pile out then cover them with dried leaves and bake them until it is iron-hard.
Furnace for heating the Earthen Pots
This unique profession which has been practiced by Changki women now had lost almost all its importance and the art of making these are in the brink of extinction. For younger generations if not taken proper care of to preserve these priceless art will soon become only a lore, a story that will be narrated to with great regret.
While speaking to Rev. Satem an elderly in the village narrates that some enthusiastic scholars are researching the route from which Changki people migrated and said that there are some sites that they had excavated, which shows the sign of their early abodes. In those places remnants of earthen pot-necks and handles of the lids are found he stated.
Heated Pots ready for sale after necessary finishing and designes
In order to preserve this priceless heritage of Pottery, Village Development Board (Women) are taking intense care by organizing mass training to young damsels. Though not a mass scale production these earthen pots are sold amounting from Rs. 10 to Rs. 50. These women also with great expertise make miniature pots for showcase and souvenirs.
Visiting a village elder house in the heart of the village, he narrates, how his mother use to make these earthen pots with great skills. He shows his well collected treasures of earthen pots which are now 60 to 70 years old. These iron hard pots were once a container for rice, water and other essential items. They were once favourite utensils in village parties. Stating that rice cooked in earthen pots was much tastier, even meats were cooked with much delicacy than the present day pressure cooker, he narrated.
An Earthen Pot said to be around eighty years old use to preserve water and rice. It was said that the bride would bring earthen pots during marriage.
Clay and Ceramic utility for sale
The finish products for sale
Earthen pots were taken by brides to their in-laws during those days but now it had just settled to become a story, a memory to those wrinkled old faces to reminisce. This incredible art which was once a profession faces the war for survival. But the one good thing recently happened is the Government of India, Ministry of Textile in association with the Country Craft Development Society, Dimapur manages to identify this sole Ao Village and are taking a step more further to preserve and also intensify the skills giving a channel to meet the Global needs. With the training programme organized for fifteen days in handicrafts, these dynamic potters felt the changes within. A mixture of old pottery techniques with the modern day ceramic pottery and designs, Changki craftsmen are now preparing to face the challenge moving further ahead to meet the global market with humble beginning.



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