restricted access 6. Creole Clay: Cultural Legacies in Caribbean Ceramics

From: Creole Clay

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119 6 Creole Clay Cultural Legacies in Caribbean Ceramics My mother was African, so it must be African. —Catty Osman, potter, Saint Lucia One summer in the early 2000s the Folk Research Centre in Castries, Saint Lucia, hosted a lecture and discussion on the heritage ceramics produced in Choiseul. Potters Catty Osman and Irena Alphonse came up to Castries for the evening, and we had a fascinating conversation on cultural legacies with the group of historians, archaeologists, educators, craft development specialists, artists, and artisans who attended. It was generally believed that the making of pottery in Choiseul was an occupation inherited from the population of Carib Indians who had settled in this district, and whose contributions were easily recognized in boat building and fishing practices as well as in the faces and family demographics of the people of Choiseul . African legacies had long been acknowledged in Saint Lucia as a foundational influence in social and cultural heritage, but had not necessarily been reflected in the craft traditions of Choiseul. We discussed the weight of evidence from related pottery traditions in the Caribbean and in West Africa that supports an African origin for the specific ceramic methods used in Choiseul, and in considering the patterns of transfer from mother to daughter, potter Catty Osman responded to the cultural debate with a simple statement: My mother was African, so it must be African. And yet, there have also been Carib mothers in Choiseul who made pottery and raised their daughters in this occupation. This chapter will consider the question of African and Carib contributions to heritage ceramics in Saint Lucia through a focused and specific exploration of the production technologies used, Figure 6.1. Galibi potter Marlene Lydia Aloema from StowelVillage, Suriname, sells her work at a craft market in the capital city of Paramaribo. She learned indigenous pottery-making skills from her mother, Correlly Aloema.The Galibi people are also known as Kalina, Kalinago, or Carib Indians. 120 Creole Clay and begin a broader discussion on the wide range of cultural influences in pottery traditions across the Caribbean region. Afro-Caribbean Pottery The problematic histories of the sugar plantations of Saint Lucia make them uncomfortable sites for the origin of enduring cultural traditions. It is far more likely that the roots of the pottery made in Choiseul came to Saint Lucia in the minds, bodies, and hands of African slaves. In 1815 on the Balenbouche Estate alone there were forty-one slaves born somewhere in West and Central Africa, and nineteen of these were women who would have carried with them the cultural memories of a domestic lifestyle based on handmade production. Industrial ceramic production on the plantations, utilizing European wheel and kiln technologies that were taught only to male slaves, probably contributed nothing more to the domestic pottery tradition than the identification of usable clay. The most logical approach to a search for the origins of this tradition is to look within ethnic heritage, to the intangible legacies of ceramic practice in the countries where the St. Lucian slaves and their ancestors were born (fig. 6.2). While the potters living in the southern region of Choiseul share their African ancestry with Carib Indian heritage, observation of the ceramic methods they use firmly roots this tradition in a West and Central African context. Strong similarities in both product and method can be seen among women potters of African descent working today in Saint Lucia, as well as in Antigua, Nevis, and Jamaica. This grouping of related practices in the region has been labeled by anthropologists and Figure 6.2. Storage and cooking vessels made by Baule potter Koua Aya in the village of Tanou Sakassou in Ivory Coast, West Africa, with characteristic incised patterning and blackened surfaces. Creole Clay: Cultural Legacies in Caribbean Ceramics 121 archaeologists as Afro-Caribbean pottery, and further identified in some cases as Afro-Jamaican or Afro-Antiguan when addressed from a specific island context. Over the past fifty years, the cultural origins of these New World ceramic traditions have been the focus of research and reflection by scholars across many disciplines , beginning with archaeological projects in the United States. In the 1960s local pottery found in plantation contexts in the southern United States was assumed to have been made by American Indians, and was labeled accordingly as Colono-Indian pottery, that is, pottery made by Native American peoples during the colonial period. In the 1970s it was increasingly acknowledged that African slaves in North America...


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