Ceramics in the Matsés is a purely female practice and a vital piece of ancestral memory, although now only practiced by a handful of Matsés women throughout their territory. Our vision is to ensure this ancient technique is not lost by transmitting the ceramic process to younger Matsés.
In 2018 we followed Ana Bunu on a 30 minute canoe ride outside of the village in search of the right clay and bark needed to make the ceramics. A particular type of whitish clay is collected from the bed or the bank of a small stream, and strips of bark are peeled from a tree called “mui” by the Matses and “aparachama” in local Spanish (Licania spp. Family Chrysobalanaceae). These materials are wrapped in what we like to call a “jungle backpack”, which is made on the spot by plaiting palm fronds and attaching a tumpline made from the bark of a different tree.
When back in the village the “mui” bark is burnt and then the silvery ash is sifted into a fine powder and mixed with the clay. The method of mixing the bark is in order to make the ceramic stronger as without, it would break easily. With the clay and ash mixed it is then rolled and constructed using the traditional coil technique as the ceramics take their form.
The ceramic is then shaped with the shell of a freshwater clam and then the outside is smoothed with the coin-shaped seed of a liana (Mucuna sp., Family Leguminosae), which the Matsés call “pupu ëshë”, literally “owl eye”. Next, it is dried in the sun for a few hours before placing on the open fire to set.
THE NEXT GENERATION
There are only a handful of ceramic artists left in Matsés territory. With time and through the fair-trade we are developing, the vision is to see the younger girls learning the ways. Ceramic making is a purely female practice and a vital piece of ancestral memory which must be transmitted to the new generations.