Oman has a rich tradition in pottery and Bahla occupies a place of pride in the region.
The art of pottery dates back to as early as 2500 BC. The invention of the potter’s wheel has tremendously influenced the development of our culture and civilization. So much so that ancient pottery today is considered to be an important relic in the studies of archaeology and social anthropology.
Yet unless the Omani government takes action, the pottery traditions and culture will fade into oblivion
The traditional pottery trade is dwindling though a few pottery units have remained in Bahla. At one time, scores of families in Bahla were trying to perpetuate the craft, but today there are only a few left. The souq has only limited items.
On my recent visit to Bahla I sneaked into a pottery unit in the heart of the town. Outside, a slab of clay, trampled upon by men hours before, was tanning in the sun. At another place the soil was left to soak in shallow water-filled pits secured by nets. These ensure that dried leaves and other dirt would not get mixed in with the clay.
Zaid Abdulla Hamdan Al-Adawi, the proprietor of the pottery unit, was seen stacking up the earthenware in the courtyard of his shed. When I queried him about the clay, he said that the brown clay is extracted from the wadi (riverbed) in Bahla while the red clay comes from mountains in the Bahla Wilayat. He did not seem enthusiastic when he observed: “Traditional pottery is a dying art now. Until about eight years ago, pottery was still a thriving trade. People now opt for plastic containers over our earthenware. A small section still prefers our items and for them we survive.” Zaid works from his electrically operated pottery wheel amid the accouterments of the trade. From the finished items I could make out that pottery is not confined to utility and economic purposes alone. It has developed into an aesthetic and quintessential art form.
Zaid’s shed is a clutter of water pitchers, pots, vases, frames, storage urns and decorative objects. Though the methods for producing potteries have changed, especially kilns (ovens) and firing techniques, Zaid still practices pottery the traditional way, completely unaffected by the changing times and trends. Except that he uses the electric wheel over the kick wheel.
Watching the clay being transformed as Zaid’s hands seem to weave patterns in the air seeing shapes and sizes emerge, along with spouts and rims as the fingers mold and curve, makes for a fascinating sight. Within minutes the contours of a pot appear. Zaid uses the old way, yet he is aware of the needs of the tourists and art collectors. Therefore, he is attempting to innovate by incorporating new design and motifs on his earthenware.
The items do not come cheap these days. I bought a very small water pitcher with an interesting mechanism for OMR 2 (SR 19.50). In this magic jug, water can be filled from the bottom and poured out only through the beak. Amazingly, it does not spill out when in an upright position.
The pieces, which adorn the spaces of the shed, have aesthetic appeal and a smooth finish. A frame with a picture of a coffee pot, all in clay, speaks of the creativity of Zaid. But unless the Omani government comes to the rescue of the dying craft, people like Zaid will continue to be a victim of ‘survival of the fittest’.
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