Reviving the dying Ishiagu pottery industry
By Douglas Okoro, Nigeria News Agency
Ishiagu in Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi is known for pottery making. In the pre-colonial times, communities in the entire South-East and even beyond source their pottery products from Ishiagu.
Because of the popularity of the industry, the town is called, ‘Ishiagu Okpu Ite,’ meaning Ishiagu home of pot making. That name is retained till today.
Before now, pottery making was the second major occupation of the people of the area, besides farming, while the industry was dominated by women.
The women had sustained the pottery culture and passed the skill from generation to generation.
According to an undocumented account, Ishiagu became a dominant force in pottery industry in the whole of the old Eastern Region until the dawn of the 21st century, when the industry began to crash.
According to the account, the Ishiagu pottery products were demanded beyond the shores of Nigeria due to its durability and variance in styles, shapes, sizes and multiple purposes they serve.
Mrs Rebecca Onu, an octogenarian and former pot producer, who spoke to the Nigeria News Agency said that the pottery industry made Ishiagu community famous and those who engaged in the trade were respected and prosperous.
Onu, who spoke in her native dialect, recounted her experiences during her youthful years and how pot merchants came from far and near to buy Ishiagu pottery products.
She said that Ishiagu has quality clay soil, noting that clay is the major raw material for pot making.
She stressed that due to the quality of Ishiagu clay, and professional expertise of the potters, ceramics produced from the community became very durable and in high demand.
“Pottery in our own days was a prestigious craft and every woman who does not learn the craft was regarded as a lazy and non-industrious woman.
“People who deal in pottery products usually come from as far as the North to buy pots produced in our community.
“Every village in Ishiagu has a central furnace called ‘Onununu ite,’ meaning a place where potters from the village gather their pottery items and locally refine them by passing them through the furnace.
“Pottery industry is a culture in Ishiagu, a mother is expected by tradition to give a giant pot, called ‘adu mini’ to her daughter being given out in marriage.
“Civilization, western education and quest for white collar jobs have led to the collapse of the cherished pottery industry in Ishiagu.
“Our quest for foreign made products has also made our people to abandon their way of life and embrace the western culture and this has contributed to the collapse of the pottery industry.
“We have replaced water pots once used for fetching water from streams with jerry-cans, while storage of water in big earthen pots have been replaced with giant plastic products, which is harmful to the body,” Onu said.
Mrs Maria Aja, a physically challenged, who hails from Amata community in Ishiagu, who is still in the business, regretted that the pottery industry which gave the community its fame and popularity is being left to go into extinction.
She noted that pottery is the only traditional industry that Ishiagu is reputed for, and called on stakeholders and relevant government institutions to restore the lost glory of the pottery industry.
She said that pottery products were major souvenirs the community gave to top government functionaries, who visited the community years back, but the story is different today.
“It used to be a thing of joy and honour when you are contacted to make a special ceramic product that will be given to a visiting government personality and Ishiagu pottery became very famous and highly patronised.
“In the early 80s Ishiagu pottery industry boomed and diminished pottery products from our neigbouring communities.
“The late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Sam Mbakwe, late Collins Obi, and others who came to campaign in the community were presented with pottery products as souvenirs by the late traditional ruler of Ishiagu, Eze Paul Onu-Chukwu.
“Ishiagu pottery products come in various shapes, sizes and styles, including flower-pots, dish-pots drinking pots, kola-saucer, among others.
“During the hot season, water stored in giant earthen pot remained very cold and good for drinking.
“The industry is dying because the present generation has abandoned the industry and are not doing much to sustain this cherished culture that launched us into the global map,” Aja said.
She urged the Ebonyi Government to resuscitate the dying Ishiagu pottery industry by building modern ceramics industry in the community, where youths could be encouraged to go and acquire skills in pottery making.
She said: “The Chinese built a ceramics industry where the Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, is currently located, but we didn’t know why the industry was not sustained.
“Ebonyi Government can restore this lucrative industry by building a ceramics skill acquisition centre in the community, to encourage educated youths and women to take a career in pottery production.”
Miss Ngozi Ngele from Amaokwe in Ishiagu, is a youth who is determined to change the narrative and has vowed to restore the dying Ishiagu pottery industry by engaging in pottery production.
Ngele said that she was motivated to go into pottery industry due to the economic benefits and the need to restore an industry which she said was Ishiagu’s trade mark.
Ngele, 25, and a secondary school certificate holder, said that she inherited the skill from her late maternal grandmother, who was famous in her days for pot making.
She said that people come from different states including big cities across Nigeria to buy her products.
She said that the industry became moribund because no efforts were made to develop the pottery industry in Ishiagu, which she said was concentrated in the hands of old and uneducated women.
“Times change and so does everything in life. Our cherished pottery industry collapsed because efforts were not made to introduce new technologies that would have made the industry to adapt to the changing time.
“Pottery industry is highly rewarding, and I make thousands of naira monthly from my production, and buyers come from different places including big towns to patronise my products.
“Government and wealthy individuals from Ishiagu should invest in pottery industry to revive and restore the dying industry.
“Many youths shun the pottery industry because production is still locally done and this is the challenges I face.
“We have the potential to turn around our ceramics industry and make our products compete with Chinese and other world products if government can invest in the pottery business”, Ngele said.
She appealed for financial support from government and wealthy individuals to enable her to expand the business and procure modern ceramics manufacturing equipment.
According to her, rainy season affects production, adding that pottery production could become part of government’s major sources of revenue if well developed and production made an all seasons affair. (Features)