The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

miscellaneous papers, notebooks and letters on Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower, 1937-1947

caption: Tangkhul pottery-making
medium: notes
person: Shangshum
ethnicgroup: Tangkhul
location: Nungbi Khulen Nungbi Khunou (Nungbi Khunao)
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: In Manipur State, a few miles on the Indian side of the Assam-Burma border, are the two Tangkhul Naga villages of Nungbi Khulen and Nungbi Khunao. They are the only villages in the district to lie near suitable clay, and they have the monopoly of pottery-making in the Tangkhul area.
text: Not all the villagers are potters, but those who are make a good living at it. Both the men I watched at work wore large and expensive wine-red cloths, and one had a white sweater imported from the Plains, always a mark of prosperity. They worked in the street of Nungbi Khunao and all their tools and materials were brought out from a neighbouring house. No wheel was used. The clay was rolled up round a bamboo to bring it to the right shape, and then, as with some of the Manipuri potters, it was shaped with crude tools and the hand on top of a tall wooden block round which the potter walks.
text: The materials used were dry, powdered clay, stone-dust, and water. Tools included a pestle, a sharp edged strip of bamboo, and two implements like rough wooden spades, which were used for mixing the clay.
text: First of all stones were brought in a basket, and one or two of them were hammered to a fine powder. They broke easily, and were dust in a few minutes. Then the dust was mixed with half the quantity of powdered clay and enough water to moisten it thoroughly. This mixture was pounded in a wooden trough till smooth, and then shaped with the hands on a board into a long strip about an inch thick. Next this strip was patted out with the hand, till it was half the thickness, and the edges were trimmed with a sharp bamboo sliver. A round, flat cake was then shaped for the base of the pot and set ready on the working block. Then the strip was rolled up round a bamboo - in this case a water-vessel - and stood upright on the base. The roll of clay was shaken into position, the bamboo was removed, the edges were joined, and the sides and base were worked together.
text: Next the walls of the pot were patted thin, and pressed and worked into shape, the potter backing round and round the pedestal, one hand inside the pot, the other working outside with a flat patter. This was the longest part of the process, and took twenty minutes or more. The outside was scraped smooth with the slip of bamboo. The rim and handles were made from rolls of clay, fitted to the pot, and worked to the finished shape, and the pot was then ready for firing.
text: Firing is done in the open, and the smoke makes the villages conspicuous for miles. The finished ware is black, coarse and strong and is made in several shapes beside the two pictured, though these are the most common, and it is traded to all the neighbouring villages.
text: List of prints
text: 8a. Pounding the mixture of stone-dust, clay and water with a rice-pestle in a wooden trough, to make it smooth.
text: 8b. The prepared clay is shaped into a long, narrow strip. On the left of the picture are a basket of stones, a bamboo water-vessel with ladle, a hard stone used to pulverize the others, and a small basket to hold dry clay.
text: 8c. Strip of the second pot prepared for patting thin. In the background Shangshum, the white-jerseyed potter, is at work on the first pot. Behind the second potter's knee can be seen the clay base, laid ready o the pedestal which serves as a work-table.
text: 8d. Patting the clay strip flat.
text: 8e. Trimming the strip with a sharp strip of bamboo.
text: 8f. The strip is rolled up round a bamboo water-vessel.
text: 8g. Strip and bamboo are set up on the prepared base. The clay is shaken free of the bamboo and eased out to fit the base.
text: 8h. The clay is thinned by beating and brought gradually to shape.
text: 8i. The pot begins to take shape.
text: 8j. Attaching handles.
text: 8k. The finished pot. The potter is cutting it from the board with a slip of bamboo.