An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
CLAY POTS have been an important part of traditional life in Bougainville, as they have in many Melanesian communities.
They’re used for fetching and boiling water, of course, but have also been an important asset for Bougainvillean families and clans in days gone by.
In the past, clay pots were valuable and considered sacred or holy. Various shapes, styles and sizes had different types of spiritual significance and practical purpose.
These values were not uniform across Bougainville; they differed from clan to clan, so one community may have had a slightly different story. People from diverse places had their own legends and myths about these pots.
In Central Bougainville an oral story passed from my ancestors tells that long ago people did not know how to make clay pots.
One day a god of the soil, having seen people always roast food in the fire, took the form of a woman and came out from the bush to show the wife of the clan’s chief how to make a clay pot, how to use it and how to cook with it.
Nowadays the new modern saucepan or pot has removed the practical need for the clay pot and there is a danger that the manufacture of pots will fade away.
From the north to the south of the island, these days you will not often see someone cooking with a clay pot. Even in the villages their use is rare, except for big occasions.
During the Reeds Festival and the Kul Festival, the organisers state that Bougainvilleans must try to preserve these traditional icons.
They say that people who know how to make clay pots must be identified and asked to help teach the skills to young people before the knowledge is lost.
That is why at the Reeds Festival clay potters were hired to give basic education to the young ones. There is a need for proper lessons to be conducted in each community to preserve this tradition.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government should address the issue of how these disappearing traditions can be retained for the future.
These traditions are part of what makes Bougainville unique.
All that said, clay pots are still in use in some parts of Bougainville. Many people prefer the taste of the food cooked in a clay pot compared to the modern pot.
“Kaikai yumi save kukim lo clay pot em save swit moa lo ol displa mipla save kukim lo ol pot blo whiteman o blo pawa (Food we cook in clay pot tastes much better than those cooked from the whiteman’s modern pot or those on power),” they say.
This tradition needs saving before it dies out, something that could be achieved through proper education of the new generation.