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ArtThe Pottery Renaissance: A Timeless Journey of Tradition and Cultural Resilience

The Pottery Renaissance: A Timeless Journey of Tradition and Cultural Resilience

Hidden within the enchanting Gulele sub-city, just a stone’s throw away from the Nigeria Embassy, lies a hidden gem that captivates the hearts of both locals and foreigners alike. Welcome to Ensira Pottery Cooperative Association, an oasis of artistic brilliance and historical significance, where the age-old craft of Ethiopian pottery comes to life.

For centuries, Ethiopian women have been the custodians of this revered tradition, passing down their ancestral knowledge from generation to generation. They have honed their skills to perfection, meticulously crafting an array of pottery items, including jugs, containers, and exquisite decorative pieces. These creations serve as tangible links to a bygone era, a testament to the rich cultural tapestry that permeates the nation’s heritage.

Stepping into the expansive courtyard of Ensira, visitors are transported to a realm of sheer beauty and artistic prowess. The air hums with an infectious energy as the vibrant hall beckons guests to explore the boundless creativity of local artisans. Each corner is adorned with an assortment of dazzling pottery pieces, each one bearing the indelible mark of Ethiopian artistry.

Genet Assefa, the manager of Ensira Pottery Cooperative Association, proudly describes the center as much more than a mere pottery hub. It stands as a living testament to history, with its antique architecture lending a mystique that adds to its allure. As visitors immerse themselves in the experience, Genet emphasizes the importance of understanding the rich historical and cultural significance of the location while purchasing the pottery products on offer.

Genet says the fact that Ensira was once the residence of Ras Imru Haile Selassie, an Ethiopian noble, soldier, and diplomat of immense historical importance, it further enhances its status as a registered heritage site.

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It is within these hallowed walls that the echoes of the past intertwine with the present, inviting guests to embark on a journey of discovery.

Beyond the mere act of purchasing pottery, customers are encouraged to delve deeper into the narrative woven by the buildings themselves. With every step, they bear witness to the remarkable craftsmanship of the artisans while immersing themselves in the historical context that breathes life into each structure. This dual experience adds a profound sense of depth and value to the visit, rendering it an unforgettable and enriching encounter for all.

“Prior to the establishment of Ensira, women in cooperatives worked in over 15 collectives in an area farther north than the present-day Qechene,” Genet explains. However, these previous sites, she says, proved insufficient to accommodate the burgeoning demand.

“After moving to the new center, the craftswomen now possess essential facilities, including dedicated production areas, a showroom to showcase and sell their pottery products, a firewood and charcoal shop, a grinding mill room, and even a daycare center for their children,” Genet said.

An array of clay creations awaits visitors, showcasing the boundless talent and unwavering dedication of the nation’s craftswomen. From ornate storage bins to exquisite coffee and tea sets, decorative vases, incense burners, candle holders, frames, to bowls of various shapes and sizes, and the iconic injera basket, used for storing and serving Ethiopia’s traditional food, all bear witness to the astonishing artistic value and meticulous effort invested in their creation.

These pottery products, adorned with intricate designs and patterns, serve as living embodiments of Ethiopia’s vibrant cultural heritage. Beyond their aesthetic allure, they also play a pivotal role in empowering Ethiopian women economically and socially within their communities. The art of pottery making has become a source of livelihood for many, enabling them to support themselves and their families while leaving a mark on the artistic landscape.

AlmazYeshitila, who at the age of 48 is an esteemed member of Ensira, hailing from the vibrant neighborhood of Kechene.

Almaz has shouldered the responsibility of raising her three daughters single-handedly for the past decade. Her journey as a potter commenced at the age of 18, under the tutelage of her mother, as she mastered the delicate art of molding and designing pottery, particularly the ‘incense burner.’

Having joined Ensira since its inception four years ago, Almaz has played her part in the pottery industry preserving the art. Prior to joining the Center, she was an active participant in a small and medium enterprise called “Fikirena Selam,” consisting of 46 women, who organized themselves to overcome the challenges they faced. Unlike many artisans who navigate bustling marketplaces to sell their wares, Almaz’s customers seek her out at her humble abode, drawn to the allure of her unique pottery creations.

As Almaz opens up about her journey, a mosaic of triumphs and tribulations begins to unfold. Her candid reflection sheds light on the harsh realities faced by artisans striving to make ends meet. Balancing the financial demands of providing for her children with the costs of daily living in a rented house, only adds to the uphill battel she wages daily.

“It was a daunting task to shoulder the sole responsibility of supporting my family with this craft,” Almaz told The Reporter.

Almaz’sstruggles are often similar with the countless artisans who navigate similar challenges, where the pursuit of their passion often intertwines with the complexities of daily life.

The Pottery Renaissance: A Timeless Journey of Tradition and Cultural Resilience | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

The pottery center has experienced significant growth, currently boasting 302 members. The center has not only provided economic benefits to its members but has also extended support to the surrounding communities. In addition to these members, the center has created job opportunities for 128 employees in various roles, including fine soil suppliers. These suppliers primarily come from Menze in the northern Shewa of the Amhara region, as well as Sululta and Fiche in the State of Oromia.

Working in pottery production is a captivating craft, but it demands significant physical effort. The process begins with collecting raw materials, which involves gathering clay directly from the river’s shingle-bed. After it is dried, the clay is pulverized using a large wooden pestle. The resulting clay powder is then kneaded with water and shaped into various forms and sizes.

A few days later, once the clay has dried and been engraved if necessary, the items are baked. The baking process often takes place in simple ovens, which can be as basic as a pit in the ground. The goods are placed in the pit and covered with dried dung, which acts as a combustible material.

Although the pottery center operates as a cooperative, the individual members run their own businesses and have autonomy in decision-making processes. They determine the amount of input to be utilized, the level of production, and the selection of buyers. Additionally, the potters earn profits independently. However, they are obliged to contribute 20 percent of their earnings for utility expenses and monthly savings in the cooperative’s account.

To reach their customers, theyproduce a wide range of pottery products sold to Ethiopian customers, hotel owners, foreigners, and exporters. They have shop centers to showcase and sell their creations, and during holidays, they participate in bazaars. Moreover, Genet says the Addis Ababa City Administration Bureau has provided them with a shop center in the Adwa Memorial Museum, further expanding their market presence.

Regarding employment, individual potters do not hire workers on an individual basis. Instead, as a cooperative, they permit certain workers to work in the center, paying them on a piece-rate basis. Mud bakers, for instance, are compensated based on the amount of mud they bake, while pottery painters are paid according to the number of pottery items they paint.

Despite the gratitude felt for the new facility, the artisans at the center still face health and environmental challenges. Although an electric kiln is available for firing pottery items, it is currently not in use. Instead, cow manure and other smoke-producing materials like firewood are used to ignite the kiln, resulting in strong smoke. This poses health hazards to the workers, emphasizing the need for improved working conditions and environmentally friendly practices within the pottery production process.

Indeed, the popularity of ceramics and plastic products has caused a shift in consumer preferences away from traditional pottery items. This change in consumer behavior has led to a decline in demand for traditional pottery, posing challenges for potters who must adapt their designs and techniques to cater to changing tastes.

The transition can be both challenging and time-consuming as potters strive to strike a balance between preserving traditional craftsmanship and meeting evolving consumer demands.

However, there is a silver lining. Genet claims that customers are now returning to clay products due to concerns about the health implications of plastic and ceramic alternatives. This shift presents an opportunity for the pottery industry to regain its position in the market by emphasizing the unique qualities and health benefits of traditional pottery items.

Yet, despite the potential for growth, there are obstacles that impede the development of the pottery sector. One significant challenge, according to Genet, is the general community and investor perception of pottery as a profession. The craft is often undervalued, and insufficient attention is given to its potential as a thriving industry. This lack of recognition can hinder the sector’s growth and discourage investment in infrastructure, technology, and marketing.

Furthermore, the traditional and artisanal nature of pottery-making in Ethiopia, deeply rooted in cultural and historical traditions, presents its own set of challenges.

“The reason why Ethiopian pottery production may not have shown rapid growth and turned into an industry-level activity is the nature of the craft. Pottery-making in Ethiopia has deep cultural and historical roots, with many artisans using traditional techniques and materials that have been passed down through generations,” Genet explained. “This can make it difficult for the industry to scale up and modernize in order to meet increasing demand.”

Genet believes the lack of investment in infrastructure, technology, and marketing further exacerbates the growth limitations of the pottery industry. “Without access to modern equipment, training opportunities, and effective marketing strategies, pottery producers may struggle to compete with cheaper, mass-produced alternatives in the market,” she concluded.

Yonas Mekuanint, a professional bronze Sculptor for over seven years, asserts that the art and handicraft sector are not given much attention and recognition in Ethiopia. He emphasizes the fact that the lack of formal training programs or educational opportunities for aspiring pottery as well as bronze sculptors has led many artists to struggle in developing their skills and techniques in working with bronze in Ethiopia.

 According to Yonas, those private and poly technique art schools Known for teaching art class and sculpture does not even have the course program on traditional as well as modern pottery and sculptor works.

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