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Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Egyptian potters using Nile mud seek to protect their craft

Traditional potters are now struggling to preserve their craft against the pressures of inflation, pollution and modernisation.

Reuters , Thursday 17 Dec 2020
A potter looks on as he hammers wet river-clay into traditional shapes at El Nazla village in Fayoum
A potter looks on as he hammers wet river-clay into traditional shapes at El Nazla village in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Egypt December 13, 2020. Picture taken December 13, 2020. REUTERS
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For generations, potters in the village of El Nazla have taken mud carried by the River Nile to craft their wares by hand, using techniques they say date back to Ancient Egypt.

But they say they are now struggling to preserve their craft against the pressures of inflation, pollution and modernisation.

Egyptian potter Hosni Hussien, whose sons are also potters, heats the mud oven at El Nazla village i
Egyptian potter Hosni Hussien, whose sons are also potters, heats the mud oven at El Nazla village in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Egypt December 13, 2020. Picture taken December 13, 2020. REUTERS

The potters manually mix clay, straw and ash in open-air workshops before firing pots in large traditional ovens fuelled with wood and tyres. The resulting urns and bowls are light brown in colour.

"This craft is as old as the village itself," said 38-year-old Hosni Ahmed, who has worked for 25 years as a potter in the village, located about 100 km southwest of Cairo on a canal fed by the Nile.

An Egyptian potter works with mud to make traditional shapes of pottery at El Nazla village in Fayou
An Egyptian potter works with mud to make traditional shapes of pottery at El Nazla village in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Egypt December 13, 2020. Picture taken December 13, 2020. REUTERS

As well as seasonal dips in production due to less sunlight and more rain in the winter, villagers say they are also contending with increased raw material prices and a drop in silt quality.

"The Nile today does not bring us mud like before," said Hosni's brother, 31-year-old Alaa Ahmed. "Even when we get the mud, it is not clean, full of wastewater and garbage."

Egyptian potter Hosni Hussien, whose sons are also potters, carries river-clay with traditional shap
Egyptian potter Hosni Hussien, whose sons are also potters, carries river-clay with traditional shapes of pottery as he walks past a mud oven at El Nazla village in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Egypt December 13, 2020. REUTERS

They also say authorities have offered to modernise their craft, suggesting they use less polluting gas ovens, and produce different varieties of pots to cater to pottery lovers and tourists who visit the village.

"If they want to modernise, they have to treat it like a natural protected area," said Hosni. "This is heritage." 

Gaber Ahmed, an Egyptian potter, works with mud to make traditional shapes of pottery at El Nazla vi
Gaber Ahmed, an Egyptian potter, works with mud to make traditional shapes of pottery at El Nazla village in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Egypt December 13, 2020. REUTERS

Alaa Ahmed, a 31-year-old Egyptian potter, shows river-clay with traditional shapes of pottery at El
Alaa Ahmed, a 31-year-old Egyptian potter, shows river-clay with traditional shapes of pottery at El Nazla village in Fayoum, southwest of Cairo, Egypt December 13, 2020. REUTERS

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