Wole Balogun, Ado-Ekiti
Isan-Ekiti in Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State is rich in soil. As a result, it is blessed with many agricultural produce such as yams, plantain and bananas. Isan-Ekiti is also home of Governor Kayode Fayemi.
But beyond her endowment with agricultural resources, women potters are creating wonders with clay soil in the town. They are designing beautiful clay pots and plates. Since the town was founded around 16 AD, the women potters have brought fame and honour to it with the craft and its trade.
Onisan of Isan-Ekiti, Oba Adejuwon Gabriel Ayodele, told Daily Sun: «There are certain set of people who are from the lrefe quarters where the clay materials are found. Nearly all the women from the quarters know how to make pots, while others learn from them.
“The pottery business has been in existence since lsan has been here around 16AD. In those days, especially during the pre-colonial and colonial era when aluminium pots or fridges were yet to be invented, clay pots are used and many people come to Isan to patronise our women.
“Our people also take the pots to sell in places such as Kogi, Oyo and Kwara states. They travel on foot for days and some carried it on their heads while others carried it on horses. Then, we were popularly known as ‘Isan Amokoko’ meaning Isan people who create wonders with clay.
“We have over 50 women in the town who are into the pottery business now. There are some pots we make to look like dispensers and the water kept inside them would still be either warm or cool for a long time. Our older women still use clay pots to preserve their soups, to keep it warm and for their water, to keep it cool.
“With the advent of aluminium pots and fridges the business went down. But government assisted our women during the Better Life programme of former President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB). Government then built a facility at the Irefe quarters to promote the business. But since he left, no civilian government has done anything to improve on it.
“The facility has become moribund. But the recent visit of the Director General of the state’s Arts, Tourism and Culture, Mr Wale Ojo-Lanre, with some students of the Ekiti State University (EKSU), brought fresh hope. They said they wanted the facility to be resuscitated and even said they were designing a machine to ensure that the pottery is made much easier. We hope the place would be revived and that this government will come ensure that.
“We are overwhelmed with joy because of the College of Agriculture the governor is bringing to the town. It will bring development and expansion to our town and our youths and people will have jobs. It will also open up our town to the world.
“We also want government, as promised, to assist us to develop the pottery business. Isan women are skilful potters who need support for mass production and marketing. We urge government to rebuild and upgrade the Isan Pottery Centre built in 1985 during the late Mariam Babangida’s Better Life Programme and, which Erelu Bisi Fayemi was working on during the first tenure of the governor.”
As a response the monarch’s request, the Council for Arts and Culture in collaboration with Bureau of Labour, Employment and Productivity promised to train young indigenes in indigenous art and craft with a view of enhancing creativity, empowerment and reducing unemployment.
Ojo-Lanre and Director General, Bureau of Employment, Labour and Productivity, Mr Lanre Ogunjobi, disclosed this during their visit to Oba Adejuwon in his palace. Ojo-Lanre said: “We have been to Ogotun-Ekiti where we have mat weavers, today we are in Isan to see the pottery centre.
“We will go to Ara, Ipoti and other Ekiti communities, with creative and indigenous industries to reinforce their sustainability and ensure their being embraced by this generation for economic development and posterity.”
Mrs Adebisi Folasade, 75, a widow, is one of Isan women skilled in pottery craft: “I started this pottery when l returned home after losing my husband in 2012. I am from Isan, from a family known as Ilusadumu. I remember learnt how to make clay pots when I was growing up as a kid.
“I did not want to stay idle and wanted something productive to do. Since I didn’t have money to start a business I took to pottery. It didn’t require any big capital except for a good hoe and little transport fare to take the clay, which is the raw material from where we usually fetch it.
“Although, I get very little out of making the clay pots and plates and selling them but I have got to keep body and soul together. We get the clay as raw materials from such places as the road to Ilemeso. We will collect the clay from the place and pack them in a sandbag. We will dry the clay and take them home. We use the hoes to fetch the clay. We soak the dry clay in water like we soak dry corns into water before making it into pap.
“It is this soaked clay which we later pound and use to make the pots and plates. We design how we want the pots to look like, using local materials. We then pack them into fire to smoke them so they could be hard enough for longer use.
“I can make 20 to 30 pieces of clay pots in a day. We sell smaller ones for N100 and bigger ones for as much as N200 and above. The younger ones in our community nowadays do not want to learn how to make pots. They see it as a dirty job.
“In those days, we used to carry the clay pots on our heads but now we use vehicles to convey them to places where we sell them. Many come from far away to buy the pots in bulk. It is still being used by market women selling herbs and traditional herbalists to prepare their herbs. I got to know how to make clay pots from moulding with clays as a play making activity when I was a kid. The pots take up to 11 days to dry during the dry season but it takes longer period during the rainy season.
“We want the government to assist us with machines to simplify making the clay pots. The local methods we have been using is tedious. We have many customers coming to buy the pots and we believe it could bring fortune to us if government renders the necessary support for the local industry.”