ANALYSIS: Ushafa pottery; where modernity and tradition meet
By Blessing Onyeaka
Pottery is an ancient craft in Nigeria, which is still practiced in most parts of the country.
This ancient craft and other popular Nigerian arts and culture has greatly helped in promoting and putting the country in the world tourism map.
Pottery has been the exclusive preserve of women in various cultures of Nigeria and some other parts of Africa.
Located in Ushafa community in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, is the Ushafa Cultural Pottery Centre, known over the years for its unique art.
This centre has drawn the attention of both international and local tourists to Nigeria.
It was established in 1990 by a former First Lady, Mrs Maryam Babangida, in her bid to harness the potentials of the community under the Better Life for Rural Women programme at that time.
The Assistant Potter, Ushafa Cultural Pottery Centre, Abdul Musa, enumerating the numerous opportunities in pottery business said the FCT and Nigeria could turn the country’s fortune around through adequate funding.
He said that the centre was originally set up to encourage entrepreneurship among women of various villages in Ushafa.
According to him, each hut in this centre is made up of five women from each village in the community (Ushafa), trained to produce pots and other clay products.
“These women are selected based on leadership, not randomly,” he said.
He said that pottery had developed over the years, adding that the centre employs both local and modern methods of producing pots and other art works.
“For the local production, the women smash and mix the clay manually. After mixing the clay thoroughly, they collect the quantity of clay they need and mold.
“There is no scale for measurement, whatever they do is based on their discretion.
“After molding, they scoop the inside and then shine the edge of the pot with stones. They also make different designs on the pots using local tools.
“After this is done, they keep it under the sun to dry. When they’ve gathered about 30 to 40 pots, they take it to the field for firing.
“The firing is done for about two hours with firewood and dry grass. The firing is a solidification process; it prevents the clay from melting when water is poured inside it.
“Colouring is done with “makuba” immediately after firing. “Makuba” is the husk of locust beans. The husk is soaked in water and the hot pot from firing is dipped inside the mixture to colour the pot.
“After colouring, the pot is left to dry and then, it’s ready for use. It’s the same process if you want to produce local plates and jugs,” he said.
Musa also explained the processes involved in the modern production, adding that the two methods are quite dissimilar.
“The modern method is highly technical. Here, the clay and kaolin are measured and soaked in water to ferment for three days, after which the mixture is sieved through a mesh.
“The filtrate is left for some days to get ready for use. Once it is ready, you can weigh the quantity of clay you want for the project with a scale.
“The modern method undergoes a lot of processes to ensure the clay is fine, smooth and lump free. If there is any lump in the clay, you will have difficulties molding with the wheel.
“Once the clay is ready, you take it to the potter’s wheel for molding. We have the manual and the electric potter’s wheel.
“There are different stages of molding, like centering, opening, pulling and shaping. It is during the shaping that you mold the exact shape you want.
“After molding, you air-dry for a while, then scoop the inside to reduce the weight of whatever you molded, after which you colour.
“After colouring, the art is taken to the keel for firing. The firing has the same function as in the local method of production but uses a different approach.
“There are two types of firing, the bricks firing and the glaze firing. We can’t afford the glaze firing at the moment; however, the modern method is stronger and more durable than the local method.
“This is the same method of producing ceramics. If only we had enough funding to afford glaze firing, we will be making more money from ceramics than we are doing presently.
“With this method, you can produce flower vases, planters, different shapes of ornaments and even ceramic plates and mugs.
The Ushafa prince went ahead to explain what we could gain economically and health wise from the pottery.
“Ushafa pottery has the capability of generating money for the country if properly developed.
“People order thousands of locally made pots for sale and even for export. These local pots are historical and portray our cultural identity.
“Even till date, people still cook and store water in the pot as in the olden days. In fact, some people believe that eating from the locally made plate is medicinal.
“The pots give natural coolness to the water inside it and because of the medicinal properties of the “makuba”, drinking water from the pot can relieve someone of chest pain and some other ailments.
“Ushafa pottery used to be a home of tourism, but the COVID-19 pandemic had a lot of negative effect on us.
“If this place is developed, we will generate enough money from tourism alone.
“We also offer skill acquisition training. Organisations and individuals can pay to get trained in the pottery business. This is another way of generating income and creating employment simultaneously.
“If we can be adequately funded and if we can afford glaze firing, we will be able to compete internationally in the ceramics industry,” he said.
Musa, however enumerated the challenges facing the pottery centre.
“Electricity is a major challenge here. For us to be highly productive, we need uninterrupted power supply.
“We require power for more than seven hours of firing, but we can’t guarantee such long hours of power. Hence, we make do with what we have, and what we have cannot compete internationally.
“We also need more staff and equipment. If we have more staff, we will be more productive,” he said.
Musa also urged youths to venture into the pottery business as it was a skill that would earn them a decent means of livelihood.
“The pottery business requires patience because you can’t produce and sell the same day, but our youths want quick money, that’s why you hardly see any of them around here.
“But if they can exercise patience and learn this skill, they will earn a lot of money from it,” he advised.
The pottery centre houses several huts consisting of women from each village in the community.
If the centre is adequately funded, it can generate foreign exchange earnings and improve the country’s Internally Generated Revenue.