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

© 2011 by S O Rampete / Bakgatla ba Kgafela
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.