Earthenware pottery-making skills in Botswana’s Kgatleng District
Inscribed in 2012 (7.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- Earthenware pottery-making skills in Botswana’s Kgatleng District
Earthenware pottery-making skills are practised among the Bakgatla ba Kgafela community in south-eastern Botswana. The women potters use clay soil, weathered sandstone, iron oxide, cow dung, water, wood and grass to make pots of different forms, designs and styles that relate to the traditional practices and beliefs of the community. Pots are used for storing beer, fermenting sorghum meal, fetching water, cooking, ancestral worship and traditional healing rituals. When collecting the soils, the master potter communicates with the ancestors through meditation so that she will be guided to the ideal spot. After collection the weathered sandstone and clay soil are pounded using a mortar and pestle, then sieved and the resulting powders mixed with water to form the clay body. The pots are slab-built, fashioned by hand into round, conical or oval shapes starting from the base and ending with the rim, and smoothed with a wooden paddle. Once decorated, the pots are fired in a pit kiln. Earthenware skills are transmitted to daughters and granddaughters through observation and practice. However, the practice is at risk of extinction because of the decreasing number of master potters, low prices for finished goods and the increasing use of mass-produced containers.
Decision 7.COM 8.1
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:
- U1: Practised and transmitted by the Bakgatla ba Kgafela community since arriving in Botswana’s Kgatleng District a century and a half ago, earthenware pottery is a manifestation of the belief system linking people with their ancestors, the leadership of the community and their natural and social environment;
- U2: The practice is in urgent need of safeguarding because of the very low number of practitioners and their advanced age, lack of interest in learning the skills and knowledge amongst the young people, competition from the production and use of industrially-made containers and the low economic return of earthenware pottery;
- U3: The safeguarding measures proposed seek to strengthen the transmission of knowledge of pottery-making skills by craftspeople, secure sustainable sources of raw materials, and encourage the community to diversify production;
- U4: During the preparation of the nomination, traditional authorities and the potters themselves were fully consulted and gave their free, prior and informed consent; furthermore, inscription of the element and implementation of the safeguarding measures will respect customary restrictions related to the collection of raw materials and certain rituals that are enacted during pottery making;
- U5: Earthenware pottery-making skills were included in 2010 in the Kgatleng district inventory of intangible cultural heritage that is managed by Phuthadikoba Museum and the Department of Arts and Culture of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture.
Inscribes Earthenware pottery-making skills in Botswana’s Kgatleng District on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
Commends the State Party for having presented the spiritual aspects of the practice that are nature-guided as well as those related to ecological sustainability, fully taking into account the points of view of the community concerned;
Notes that the practice has benefited from a number of past and more recent efforts by the Government of Botswana to safeguard it, notably the revival of the women initiation school, various national events and the UNESCO/Flemish Funds-in-Trust cooperation project;
Encourages the State Party to make sure that safeguarding measures fully respect the traditional context in which the practice takes place and the symbolic meaning of the pottery, and that efforts to diversify production and distribution do not promote excessive standardization or denature the practice as intangible cultural heritage.
© 2011 by S O Rampete / Bakgatla ba Kgafela
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website