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47 3 Shaping Culture Traditional Forms Earthenware made in various colours is used for “canarees”—casseroles, pie-dishes, etc. Being thick, it is only suited to foods requiring long slow cooking times such as stews. It has the advantage of being suitable both for use over a slow fire or in an oven. It should be heated gradually, and while hot must not come into contact with damp cloths, cold water, or cold surfaces. Because food can be served in these casseroles or pie-dishes, they save labour by reducing the amount of washing up. —E. Phyllis Clark, West Indian Cookery (1945) The traditional earthenware forms produced by the potters in Choiseul are entirely and intentionally functional, originally designed to serve rural, village, estate , and urban consumers in colonial, post-emancipation Saint Lucia. The quote above from the mid-twentieth century testifies that locally made pottery continued in general use in the kitchens of the Caribbean until quite recently, and some forms, particularly the coalpot, have maintained their relevance to the present day. As lifestyles in the region have undergone dramatic transformations during the past several decades, St. Lucian potters have had to consider the changing interests of those who purchase the pots. In this environment it is the buyer who has the strongest voice in determining what is produced; these potters all work to order, and pots that don’t sell won’t be ordered again. Domestic environments across the globe have long been dependent on ceramic products to fulfill the functions of storing, cooking, and serving food, as well as for gardening, lighting, sanitation, building material, and so on. Look around your own home and consider that all the plastic containers, paper plates, aluminum cans, glass bottles, electric lamps, and metal cookware would once have been Figure 3.1.The traditional St. Lucian coalpot (tèson) and cooking pot (kannawi) made in Choiseul by Catty Osman in 2006.The coalpot is a multipurpose cookstove intended for use with charcoal or wood. Three ventilation holes and a large ash pit provide air flow for efficient combustion, and the thick-walled, roundbottomed cooking pot ensures slow, even cooking of soups, stews, and ground provisions. 48 Creole Clay made of clay. The ceramic fixtures in a modern bathroom are a clear reminder that clay continues to serve essential domestic needs. It is the fate of the everyday object , however, to be ubiquitous to the point of invisibility, and as a result the earthenware pottery made and used in traditional settings has rarely been discussed or documented in historical texts. It is the ritual pots, the richly decorated vessels created for religious practice and status display, that are carefully preserved and later analyzed as indicators of substantial cultural worth. Such singular pottery makes its way into burial sites, shrines, temples, museums and private collections, and is thus protected against elemental damage and the ravages of time. A functional pot, on the other hand, is made with the understanding that it will be used until it breaks, and then replaced with another that will perform the same service. Time is rarely spent on decorating a cooking pot that will shortly be blackened by smoke, or on a charcoal cookstove whose lifespan is necessarily limited by repeated exposure to open flame. Ritual pots tell us one kind of cultural story, usually marked by momentous events, important social figures, or spiritual purpose. Functional pots speak to the simple daily actions common in all human societies—cooking and storing food, cooling and serving water, bathing children, washing clothes, and growing plants. La Maison Kwéyòl: The Creole Home The pottery traditions associated with the working classes of the Caribbean emerged in a society rigidly separated by race, class, and wealth. Plantation owners filled their estate houses with functional goods brought from Europe through the extensive transportation systems of the Atlantic world. Archaeological sites across the region provide ample evidence of elite household ceramics imported from Spain, England, France, and Holland. Also found alongside the imported pots, particularly on domestic sites, are comparable numbers of non-European utilitarian wares presumably made by indigenous peoples, African slaves, and indentured workers.1 In the plantation house, food may have been cooked in cast iron pots and served on imported ceramic dishes, but in the adjacent servants’ quarters and in working-class homes it is clear that locally made earthenware pottery was the norm. With the end of slavery in the British West Indies and the establishment of independent...


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