The Ceramics of Raquira, Colombia: Gender, Work, and Economic Change


The Ceramics of Ráquira, Colombia: Gender, Work, and Economic Change

Ráquira has been a pottery-making village since pre-Columbian times. It remained so throughout the Spanish Colonial period, when Mediterranean technology was introduced, and into the Republican era. However, in the last few decades the pre-industrial craft of pottery has been transformed into an industrial occupation. Today, Ráquira pottery-making involves mass production and marketing to a national audience. During this process of industrialization, control of pottery production has shifted from women to men, and from the countryside to the town. Though Ráquira is still considered a center of ceramic production, most of the villagers make their living from agriculture. After the industry was mechanized, only 4 percent of the residents were full-time potters, while another 7 percent worked in both ceramics and agriculture.

Two pottery industries continue to exist side by side in Ráquira. Rural women continue the "traditional," pre-industrial mode of production for utilitarian pottery, while urban men produce vast quantities of ornamental wares for a mass market using industrial techniques. Traditional pottery-making is based on the hand coiling of sand-tempered clay. Work takes place as time allows. Men's roles are limited to gathering the clay, mixing it, and firing the kiln. The last process is particularly important as taboo prohibits women from approaching the kiln when it is hot and menstruating women from approaching the kiln at all. In contrast, the men's ceramic industry utilizes tools or machines such as the wheel, the Mediterranean updraft kiln, glazes, and two-part plaster molds. Industrial pottery-making provides full time employment as wage labor in hierarchically organized workshops. The stigma pottery-making carries as traditional women's work is averted by the specialized nature of the workplace, and by the use of machines.

Ronald Duncan's study is diachronic. It addresses not only the current system of pottery-making, but also the changes in technology and attitudes that have taken place over time. The book demonstrates that industrialized ceramic production in Ráquira has little to do with the pre-industrial craft, since both the techniques and the personnel are different. The sole factors that have remained constant are the relative marginality of the village in terms of its agricultural lands, and the fact that erosion has made the clay beds readily accessible. Even though women were the pre-industrial potters, industrialization of the craft did nothing to help women.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of redundancy from one chapter to the next, and even within a single chapter. This important book nevertheless introduces vital information about pre- industrial craft specialization and its transformation in the modern world. The fact that it raises so many questions demonstrates how little we really know about the process.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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