The vanishing art of earthen pottery making in Gangzur

The Bhutanese traditional craft of earthen pottery making is on the verge of extinction. However, in a village of Gangzur in Gangzur gewog, Lhuentse, the fate of this age-old practice for now depends on the hands of three individuals.

Zangmo, who is 51 years old, and Tshewang Choden 63, have been making pottery for more than 20-30 years now, while Sonam Tobgay, a high school graduate, finds the responsibility to uphold the tradition or the art of earthen pottery.

Gangzur, once a popular village known for pottery making, will likely depend on Sonam Tobgay after a few years for earthen pots.

Zangmo said due to metallic pots from India and other countries and the lack of a market for handmade earthen pots, it had led to the vanishing of this practice.

“But lately, with developments in the dzongkhag, people visit our place to buy the products when they travel for tours and visits to religious sites,” she added.

She said there are over 20 households in Gangzur village and every household used to practice the art of pottery making in the past, but now the number has dropped to three individuals.

She said she had learned the art of pottery making from her mother and they had been practicing for generations. However, she is worried that her children are not paying attention to the art and the tradition is going to die along with her. 

“All the children have been going to school and no one is interested in learning the art of pottery making,” she said, adding that younger generations have never approached her to learn the art.

The practice of making earthen pottery usually happens during the winter season as they are eased from their works. During the monsoon, they are engaged in field work, and also the soil gets deprived of its stickiness and becomes unsuitable for making pots. 

Zangmo held that before they could not earn more from pottery making, but nowadays during the season of their craft, within two to three weeks she earns Nu 10,000 with which she purchases essential items for her family. 

 “Pottery making demands more people as there is a variety of work, but I manage everything. However, firewood is an issue as I have to walk for a few hours to fetch the woods.”   

However, Zangmo is determined. “I won’t quit the art of pottery making until I am unstable to work as it is a tradition, which has been practiced for generations, although my children are not keen to take up the craft.” 

Zangmo’s friend Tshewang is also worried over the fate of this craft. 

Though her products have found the market, Tshewang is no happy seeing youths not interested and dedicated to pottery making. “Our craft is dying a slow death,” says Tshewang. 

Meanwhile, the process of making earthen pottery is long and time-consuming. The clay should be gathered first. After removing stones from the clay, it must then be kneaded into a dough before shaping it into various pot designs. The pots are then shaped on a thatched wooden plank. Finally, it has to be dried and this is the most challenging role as it is hard to get firewood. 

Meanwhile, the Tarayana Foundation has been encouraging the school dropouts and youths in the district through training support to take up the craft of art of pottery making.

Tenzin Lhamo from Trashigang