Clay Makers of Nigeria: The Gbari Women
The year is 1935 and a young Gbari girl is crushing mounds of clay to be molded into a water jug. Painstakingly, she would go on to decorate the finished pot with symmetrical patterns, not unlike the ones carved by her ancestors 1000 years before. Days after molding and firing, she would carry this pot to the market to be sold.
In January 1973, the Nigerian Government launched a new currency, the Naira, and on the back of the 20 naira note, was the face of this young gwari girl, now a woman at the peak of her powers, master of her craft. That woman's name is Ladi Kwali.
Fast forward to present day in the capital of Nigeria, in a town called Kwali, Gbari women are still crushing clay by hand and decorating finished pots, just like Ladi Kwali half a century ago, and just like their ancestors 1000 years before. Not much has changed in this community. Women are still the trailblazers in this generational craft and their technique has not altered one bit. One thing that has changed though is the market. While Ladi Kwali had to rely solely on the local markets or the excited expatriates who transported her art across continents, her present day successors have adapted to the changing global marketplace, partnering with Ite Earthenware, a Nigerian based ecommerce platform on a mission to restore African earthenware to everyday use in homes across the world. Today you can shop these unique handcrafted pots from anywhere in Nigeria, with plans underway to establish a global delivery system.
There's no doubt that the very survival of some of our most precious cultural mementos, depends greatly on not just the fusion with information technology, but as well that undying spirit of dedication craftsmanship and passion that has sustained for countless generations and many more to come.
Guest Article Written by Chijoke Osuji (The Mbari)
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