Getting to Twante
Our small group of four (including Mimi, our English speaking tour guide ‘extraordinaire’) took the local ferry across the Yangon River which connects the Twante Canal, with the Irrawaddy Delta.
The ferry ride provides an authentic insight into the daily lives of local Burmese people in the city of Yangon. Seated on plastic chairs, which tend to glide a little as the ferry moves, we’re sitting alongside secondary school students, the daily commuters and extended families. The occasional maroon robed monk does the rounds with his silver bowl outstretched seeking offerings from all on board.
We disembark up a narrow, steep passenger bridge that is fascinating to experience. It’s bustling with activity, the mix of loud voices from spruikers, traders, and drivers of taxi, bike and other forms of transport, all vying for our business. With relief we are met by our pre-arranged air conditioned taxi (its 35 degrees C) and drive 1.5 hours through the rural countryside to the township of Twante.
September, 2018 was a particularly torrential wet season in Myanmar; however the benefits were seeing the lush green scenery, native birds, chickens, goats, pigs and farm animals along the route. The stilted bamboo dwellings surrounded mote-like by trenches to channel the flow of rain water, enable the people to cope with most seasonal flooding.
To visit Twante Township is a step back in time. The use of motor cycles and push bikes are prominent in Twante, unlike Yangon with its comparatively busy city full of people, buses, trains and tall buildings. We receive curious looks from the locals as not so many tourists visit Twante, despite its relatively close proximity to Yangon.
The potteries are located in the Oh Bo quarter of town, and we have to search for them. The first pottery we visit is co-sponsored in its water filter production by UNICEF. The water filters are essential as they assist to remove pathogens from the source of drinking water – the local rivers, creeks and rain (collected in martaban jars).
The water filter works by placing an open earthenware bowl form atop of a plastic bucket (with a tap). The clay pot fits perfectly above the plastic bucket. The pot is covered with a bamboo woven mat or hat. This UNICEF pottery is using electrically powered machinery (a press or jigger jolly) so that each pot fits the plastic bucket.
Most potteries don’t have much power, so potting is done close to the light source of doors and windows. All other making methods have been unchanged for centuries as we witness the typical hand-powered wooden wheel, which pivots on a strong wooden cylindrical rod and is turned by the potter or an assistant. The clay is wedged by foot and is high-quality clay created when paddy mud washes into the river and is churned by fast-flowing currents, mixing it with sandy river mud.
The use of small jets of gas (propane) helps ignite the fuel source (bamboo) during the first stages of firing especially during the wet season when the air and possibly fuel is damp.
Every centimetre of space within this bamboo hut /studio is utilised with pots drying on bamboo rafters and racks above head height. We had to duck in several spaces when walking through.
We visit the communal mud brick kilns area. All potteries are family run businesses and the village manage and share the dome shaped kilns once enough work is made for a firing. The work made to order are water filters, offering cups, flower pots, as well as a few made-to-order carved pieces and the glazed Martaban jars, used to hold water, rice and cooking oil.
All packaging for the transport of the pots is made using local vegetation like cane and saplings, which is hand crafted into boxes and stuffing. The pots are packed ready for sale and delivery, previously transported on barges down the river, nowadays more commonly by truck.
Community and Reciprocity
In preparation for our Twante village tour, we like to provide something for the people and, based on the advice of Mimi our Burmese guide, we purchase educational and stationery supplies, stickers and story books for the children from local markets. The children were shy but warmed to us soon enough; although some toddlers were reluctant to take gifts from pale-skinned folks as this was new to them.
The amazing thing about Burma is that the people are so welcoming, curious and respectful that we would travel so far to take an interest to see their pottery production and wares. It was a privilege for me to go to such a destination that is still unspoiled from tourism and safe.
We proceed to visit the retail and wholesale shopping district where the pots on display range from small children’s clay toys, kitchenware and money boxes, to utilitarian and large martaban storage jars for as far as the eye can see.
I bought a children’s tea set at a ridiculous price which has been in constant use since my return. Every purchase and donation is much appreciated and needed by families in Burma. This is how we respectfully give back.
Travel blog: written by Dianne Turner, Ceramic Artist, after an exploratory trip to Myanmar in September 2018.
Photo credits: Chris Riou, Travel Designer at Newport Travel
Dianne Turner and Chris Riou co-host pottery tours to Myanmar – visit www.clayandculture.com for details.
Contact us at Clay and Culture