(No.5, Vol.7,Oct-Nov 2017 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Shaping pottery by hand
Baking pottery at a Cham Village, Ninh Thuan Province.
Photo: Pham Duc Minh
Photos taken by Lam Chieu at Bau Truc Pottery Village, Ninh Thuan Province, 2012
Bau Truc Pottery Village, in Phuoc Dan Township, Ninh Phuoc District, NinhThuan Province, is considered one of Southeast Asia’s oldest pottery villages, famous for its distinct pottery kneading and baking techniques.
In June 2017, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism named Bau Truc a National Intangible Cultural Heritage and is filing documents about Bau Truc to submit to UNESCO for recognition as a World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Bau Truc has about 450 households, mostly Cham, and 85 per cent of them are currently engaged in pottery business. Most houses in the village are at the same time a pottery workshop, and are always open for tourists and visitors.
At the village centre, there is a Pottery Exhibition Hall for visitors to see and buy its products as gifts and souvenirs. The diverse showcased items include vases, jars, pots, teapots, statues of deities, and miniatures of Cham temples.
In the exhibition hall, there are also some artisans who demonstrate the making of Bau Truc pottery with masterly hands. Visitors can follow their lead to learn first-hand how to make and decorate simple items.
Cham traditional pottery craft at Bau Truc is very peculiar. They don’t put clay on a spinning table, but only use their skillful hands and lissome body movements to create forms. Without any mould or pattern, the craftsmen’s imagination is free and their creativity unleashed. The quality and beauty of the products depends solely on their skills, talent and artistry.
To Bau Truc villagers, the soil around the village is a treasure because it contains a special, extremely pliant kind of clay, much more so than anywhere else. Adding to that, the sand in Quao River nearby is very fine. This clay and sand are the main materials for Bau Truc pottery. After mixing the clay and sand thoroughly, a craftsman would begin using the mixture to form a product. To make a round item, he would knead the clay with his hands while walking around it, which is a very eye-catching scene.
Satisfied with the form, the artisan uses special techniques to smooth its surface before using sticks, combs, wild fruits and shells to create patterns on it. These ornamental patterns usually reflect spiritual and routine aspects of the Cham people’s life.
Having been sundried thoroughly, the ‘raw’ products are put in a heap of thatch and firewood at a clearing and a fire is lit. The pile burns at 500 – 6000C for six hours. The burnt items are taken out and sprayed with a special paint extracted from wild fruits, and then burnt again for another two hours and the process is completed.
This open-air baking technique used at Bau Truc is unlike any other pottery village of Vietnam. They all use kilns. Baked this way, each finished product has many different colours: yellow- reddish, red-pinkish, black-grayish and brown. In short, each item is a one-of-a-kind work of art.