Wednesday, January 16
Our journey down the Irrawaddy River on the RV Katha Pandaw was supposed to take in two pottery villages but the first, Nwe Nyein, was on the far side of the bridge that collapsed in Central Myanmar’s 11 November earthquake. New Nyein is famous for its glazed pottery, in particular 50 gallon hand-made water pots. (See earthquake damage video here).
The second village, Yandabo, is famous for its terracotta pots, made from the riverbank clay. It was also the place where, under a tree on the riverbank, a peace treaty was signed at the end of the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1826. This treaty financially crippled the country but the Burmese still fought two more wars before the British swallowed the whole country in 1885.
Yandabo now is a village of some 350 houses each of which is home to from 5 to 10 people. Thirty of the families are potters; the other villagers are farmers, fishermen or suppliers of raw material such as clay or wood for the kilns.
The women make the pots and it’s a two-girl job with one person potting while the other operates the wheel using a treadle. The women also decorate the pots and arrange them in a circular pattern to dry. There may be up to three thousand pots in a single layer that’s covered with a large pile of ash, straw and wood then set on fire. The temperature in this kiln reaches 1200C and firing takes three or four days, including cooling. At the end of the process the pots have changed from dull brown to a brilliant red colour. The ports are transported by boat all over the country.
Yandabo also has stupas (every village does), a monastery and a primary school that is supported by Pandaw. It was holiday time while we were there but most of the children turned up to see us although they were in mufti rather than their usual green and white uniforms.
All the schoolchildren in Myanmar wear green longyis or shorts and white shirts; this represents purity and growth. Incidentally, the first song the kids sang was about an elephant; I am a big elephant and you’d better get out of my way or I will walk on you!