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< prev - next > Social and economic development discovering technologists (Printable PDF)
Gender and Technology Training Guidelines
Session 15 - Case Studies
8. Pottery Technology in Kenya
In western Kenya, pottery has traditionally been a woman's domain. Women would
produce various types of pots and pans mainly for household use in food processing,
preparation, and storage. The distribution of surplus pottery production was originally
limited to a small geographic area. However, due to the increasing economic
significance of pottery in recent times, pottery has become a major means to a
livelihood for the women in the region.
Women potters in the western provinces of Kenya collect the clay from communal
lands along the rivers free of charge. The women potters can tell the various
properties of certain types of clay by colour . In different districts the process of
pottery making is different. Some women use the clay immediately after they have
dug it out of the source. In some districts the clay has to be stored in a cool place out
of direct sunlight for a week or two before use. The women also know by experience
the proportions by which the various coloured clays need to be mixed for different
The process of pottery making is very time consuming and labour intensive. For
example for the pot to dry it must be left indoors for one to three weeks depending on
its size. Pots that need colouring and polishing are worked on inside a hut or at night
when it is cool, a day before firing. Firing takes place on a dry day, at a time when the
direction of the wind is quite constant, usually in the afternoon.
Although pottery is the major income source for many women in western Kenya, it is
not a full time occupation. The skills and knowledge are only passed through
generations as well as among the different regions and tribes, through informal
channels of communication.
Also the appearance of modern aluminium pots for cooking, and jerrycans for fetching
water and the gradual abandonment of traditional practices in food preparation have
threatened markets for the traditional potters. But women have invented a wider
range of products to deal with this ongoing change. For example, in response to
changing eating habits, women have started producing ceramic casseroles for oven
cooking, non-stick frying pans and shallower flat bottomed pots to cook on the stoves
used in the city. They have also started producing decorative flower and plant pots,
used in tourist hotels and big buildings in the cities, as well as lampshades,
candlesticks, ashtrays and other ornamental pottery.
National policies that implement large-scale farming of cash crops have affected the
pottery industry as well as the basket and mat weaving industries. In order to plant
the cash crops vast areas of papyrus that was used in both these industries, as
firewood and as raw material had to be cleared.