restricted access 1. Introduction: Old Pots Make Good Soup

From: Creole Clay

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1 1 Figure 1.1. Unglazed functional earthenware pottery is produced across the Caribbean region today using ceramic technologies retained from the inherited cultures of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Pictured are recently made pots from Antigua, Nevis, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica,Trinidad , Guyana, and Suriname. Introduction Old Pots Make Good Soup Vyé kannawi ka fè bon bouyon. —Creole proverb, Saint Lucia One-pot meals are a singular feature of Caribbean cooking, deeply satisfying soups and stews with local names that range from “rundown” and “cookup” to pepperpot, callaloo, and bouyon. These complex mixtures of Old and New World ingredients are universally popular, and are often used as a metaphor for the social and cultural diversity of the region. The pot itself is rarely mentioned, however, except in the case of the many versions of the French Creole proverb quoted above, all of which say essentially the same thing: old pots make good soup. As with any well-used proverb, the implications extend beyond the literal translation. Old pots are those things that are known and understood, familiar and comforting and predictable , so this proverb can refer equally to cooking food or reheating a special relationship. In both kitchen and culture, locally made pottery has been central to domestic life in the Caribbean, but as is the case with most everyday objects, what is familiar and comfortable often escapes notice. The core purpose of this book is to document, in text and in image, the living heritage of ceramic traditions practiced today in the Caribbean, using the evidence of current production collected through visits with potters in the region over the past twenty years (fig. 1.1). Comprehensive archaeological studies have been produced on the ceramics of the Amerindian inhabitants of the region before European contact, and increasingly on pottery made by servants and slaves on Caribbean plantations. The less frequently cited material culture of the periods following the emancipation of the slaves offers many opportunities for a deeper 2 Creole Clay understanding of the region, and for linking past with present. This book provides documentation of pottery traditions practiced today that have roots in these earlier periods, and in countries and regions far from Caribbean shores. The primary emphasis is on potters, pots, and production: the stories of the potters’ lives, the forms and functions of the pottery vessels, and the specific technologies used to produce them. Historical context for these traditions is explored based on available documentation from both academic and popular sources, as well as oral histories provided by the potters themselves. Cultural continuity is traced through the unusual mechanism of pottery production methods, from the inherited relationship between hands and clay. These ceramic narratives offer a fresh perspective to the ongoing Caribbean encounter between old and new, local and global, and traditional and contemporary. An interesting challenge in writing about the Caribbean lies in what journalist Charles Mann has called terminological quicksand, in reference to the problematic semantics of the region.1 The naming and renaming of things (people, objects, places) across time, space, and perception has often led to confusion, inaccuracy, and even outright insult. The most obvious illustration of this issue lies in the origins of the term “Caribbean” itself. Loosely derived from the supposed name of one of the two major indigenous groups encountered by early explorers, it was applied to both place and people and layered with fifteenth-century Spanish references to cannibalism. “Creole” is another example; its original definition referred to the white children of European parentage who were born in the Caribbean, yet this word is now used as a general descriptor for anything that demonstrates the diversity of the region, from mixed ethnicities to styles of music and food. The important social concept of creolization specifically captures the merging and blending of disparate sources in the creation of a unique Caribbean identity, and has served as an ideological core for postcolonial nation and culture building. The promotion of Creole/Kwéyòl languages has become a powerful force in both academic and popular settings, and the distinctiveness of Creole heritage is celebrated through annual national festivals such as Jounen Kwéyòl (Creole Day) in Saint Lucia. Inherited from many diverse points of origin, Creole clay traditions emerged to serve the shared lifestyles of the new societies of the post-emancipation Caribbean. Complexities in geographic labeling also extend across the two thousand miles of the region. The islands of the Caribbean have historically been referred to as the...