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close this book Boiling Point No. 03 - October 1982
View the document News from Shinfield
View the document New Nepali Chulo Extension in North India
View the document Mechanical Testing of Stove Ceramics
View the document Sexual Division of Labour in the Pottery Industry
View the document Biobriquets and Hybrid Stoves
View the document Sawdust Burning Cooker
View the document Village Studies in Sri Lanka
View the document Peace Corps Work in Upper Volta
View the document The Portable Magan Chula - a closer look

Sexual Division of Labour in the Pottery Industry

When designing and introducing ceramic stoves as a new product for local potters, certain customs or taboos concerning divisions of labour have to be taken into account for the project to become a success.

In many places there are distinct taboos on who does what in the process of making pots. For example, in Ghana it is taboo for men to make the pots and touch the unfired clay for fear of causing infertility in their women. In Java the women who make the local 'Grabah' domestic wares, rarely take part in agricultural work because they believe that their pots will crack in firing if they work on the land.

Divisions of labour have evolved through other ways than sexual taboos, a good example being the wood collection for the firings in Java. Men collect the fuel for the pottery firings and in turn, because of this, they are also in charge of the firings. The methods by which the men carry their wood enables them to collect more than women and sometimes they can make two collections in a day even though the wood is quite some distance away. The men traditionally carry wood strung from a pole across their shoulders (a Pikul) or else they have a bicycle with a side cart. The women traditionally carry their loads in a 'Gendongan', a sling which rests on the hip or across the back, and are not able to bring back such large pieces of wood for the firings with this method.

In the Addis Ababa region of Ethiopia the men fire the pots, purely because it is considered too hot for the women to tend the firings. As this is not based on a sexual taboo it is often broken, especially if there is not a responsible male to take on the task.

The effects on the social structure of the potters is an important consideration in ceramic stove introduction, especially as the divisions of labour could be changed to such an extent that one of the sexes may be distinctly worse off, losing the benefits of co-operation as one partner finds a new found wealth in pottery stoves.

An example of change in the pottery industry which has affected the women in the Kasongan area of Java is described. Here, both sexes equally share in the mining, collection, and mixing of clays, divisions of labour occuring in the making and firing of the pots. The women are solely responsible for making the 'Grabah', the domestic ware which is traditionally thrown on a slow wheel. The men never use this technique as they are derided and teased by others if they do so. The men make toys and the clay animal-shaped money banks, increasing production around festival times. Most of the time, however, they spend in collecting and preparing clay, collecting fuel and firing the pots (the latter for which they were solely responsible). The women rely heavily on the men in the household in order to produce the maximum amount of 'Grakah'. Indeed, if a woman had no competent male's help available she would take her wheel into the yard of a neighbour whose husband would take on her labour requirements, being paid half the sale monies in return.


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In the early 1970s, life and income began to change for the women 'Grabah' makers for two reasons. Firstly, there was an influx of metal and plastic wares at competitive prices on the market. Cooking pots formerly of clay could now be bought in - aluminium and would last longer ; plastic jugs replaced traditional clay ones. Women with no other skills available found themselves working at far below their capacity production. Secondly, the men were introduced to new skills. A new decorative technique called 'Urkir Tempel' - the art of applying clay in a decorative fashion, in this case to the traditional animal banks, was introduced by a former Kasongan potter who had been away for sponsored training. These new Kasongan figures immediately attracted attention and began to sell fast. Men who could make the figures quickly acquired higher status and others began to follow suit. Tburists bought the figures and prices rose. In 1978 a man making 'Ukir Tempel' figures made around 22,500Rp a month. The women 'Grabah' makers made only around 2,500Rp a month. m e main households producing these figures began hiring extra male labour to increase production. If the demand for the figures increases (and this seems likely as they are very attractive works of art and the tourist industry is booming), the women will be left, not only with a declining income, but without the male labour needed to assist them to make the few 'Grabah' still needed.


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There are lessons to be learnt from this situation, indeed, the time might well be right in Kasongan to introduce wheel thrown pottery stoves to balance out the inequalities which have arisen. One thing the Kasongan potters' example does highlight is the need to assess in full every impact which the introduction of ceramic stoves will make on the local people; not only on those who will cook on the stove and on those who were perhaps making stoves before, but also on the delicate balance in the divisions of labour between the potters themselves.

Jenny Trussell