This morning we went to Sirigu, home of SWOPA – Sirigu Women’s Organization of Pottery and Art. This co-op sells, well, pottery and art – superb potters’ work and canvas paintings reminiscent of the painted houses here. I had decided to come here for a potters’ workshop, despite having little to no knowledge of pottery.
The entrance to SWOPA is a gate covered with brightly painted geometric patterns in white, brick red, and black. This is typical of the painted houses here – the white paint is made with limestone, the black from a stone they trade for in the market, and the red is from another stone that is found in gravel in the far north of Ghana.
I went into the gallery, and admired a number of well-formed bowls and jugs. The woman in charge came up to me and said that the potters were just about ready, and I should follow her. I went over, expecting to find a potter’s wheel.
Instead, I found a pair of potters sitting on the ground, kneading a mass of clay. After going through it carefully for lumps and stones, one of them pulled off a chunk and started kneading it into the bottom of a pot. She then rolled another lump into a long snake, and added it around the bottom, and another…she was building a coiled pot!
After some time she stopped and started scraping the crudely-formed sides with a curved piece of calabash gourd, turning the pot as she went, shaping it into a more graceful vessel. Then she added more clay to make a neck and a mouth, producing a lovely ewer, as even as any pot thrown on the potter’s wheel. I recalled the pieces in the gallery with newfound respect. It’s amazing what people can do with just their hands…
They indicated that I should try, so I picked up a piece of clay and awkwardly began to imitate them. They showed me by gestures what I should be doing, and chivalrously tried not to laugh at my awkward, misshapen pot. Just before lunch, one of them offered to take my lopsided piece and shape it into something a little more graceful. I gratefully took her up on her offer.
After lunch we went on a tour of the village. The mud huts turned out to be mud compounds, with multiple families living in the same complex. One room that struck me was a double room, with design that harkened back to the slave era. It had a very low lintel and a high ceiling above, enabling defenders to whack invaders over the head as they ducked to enter.
It’s hard not to see the mud compounds as an expression of extreme poverty. Granted that they’re traditional, they’re also not the best of building materials – I’m told several buildings collapse each rainy season (they just rebuild them) and people generally prefer to use concrete if it’s available. Except that most people here can’t afford concrete; the area is that poor. In the cities, concrete is fairly readily available, but trucking concrete out to the boonies would take far, far more than they can afford. So they still live in mud-and-thatch houses. Welcome to the 21st century, I guess, or maybe the 19th.
That was it for Sirigu; we returned home in a chartered taxi.