Awajún-Wampis Ceramics

The traditional pottery of the Awajún people is made entirely by women, who have specialised in the art of making various clay-based utensils for daily use or objects used on festive occasions, such as storing the drink masato during large festivals. The ceramics are known by the generic name of Pining, the name given to the nests of the guacharos birds.

The production of ceramics, including pots, jars and plates, among others, is part of the art and learning of the dakuma (knowledge, ancestral wisdom) of the Awajún women. Pottery is present in their origin myths, as well as fulfilling important roles within the culture. In recent years, Awajún ceramics has gained importance in the country's art and craft market, which has allowed these families to earn an income.

The Awajún women often decorate their ceramic vessels with geometric shapes inspired by elements found in their surrounding environment. The process of making ceramic is quite complex and involves five stages: collecting the raw material, modeling, firing, ornamentation and finishing. Not just anyone can make this type of pottery, as it requires knowledge and techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.

The grandmothers of the Awajún people, known as "dukúg", are responsible for teaching this knowledge to the rest of the women, so they fulfill an important social function by enabling young women to become autonomous through the manufacture of ceramics.


The elements used in the elaboration of Awajún ceramics are obtained from the forest; clay, tree bark, plants, are inputs that are part of the creation process. The main material in Awajún pottery is clay or dúwa in the Awajún language. It is considered a special clay because of its high elasticity and thus it is precise for working with pottery, as well as being considered a "fat" clay that is related to the Awajún oral tradition, and is associated with two mythical characters such as Nántu (moon) and Aúju (Ayaymama - within the Awajún cosmology, is the name of Nantu's wife), because of this, it is associated with the moon and the singing by Ayaymama as an indicator to find good clay in the field: "when the full moon rises, in the place where the Ayaymama bird perches, is where good clay can be found" (Mincul, 2017).

The deposits of fatty clay are found in the humid parts of the forest, on the banks of the oxbow lakes and streams or even beneath the earth. When women go in search of clay, they dig in grey and white mud, looking for bubbles in the mud as a sign of the presence of clay. In addition, there are two other types of clay used in pottery making, such as yavi or yawi, which is used for the base of large pieces, and is a little softer and whiter than duwa. Another type of clay is duwa pachishtai, or "clay that is not mixed with any kind of bark when it is prepared".

The use of clay, or duwa, has strict rules, as Luzmila tells us:

"The duwe is not easy to find, but once they find it they know where the duwe is. Men or women can take out duwe, but it has a secret. To take out the duwe you cannot sleep with your wife, and the woman cannot sleep with her husband, the woman cannot be pregnant, they don't harvest pregnant, they don't harvest what they are menstruating, that's their secret. Luzmila, San Antonio community, Río Cenepa.

Another element used in the production of ceramics is the yukuúku or the apacharama bark (Hirtella triandra), which is one of the most important materials for Awajún pottery. Yukuúku is the ash obtained by burning the apacharama bark, which is then mixed with the clay to form the paste for the pottery.

In the process of this paste, they also use other materials and mixtures, such as yukáip, which is a resin produced from the tree (Vismia sp.) This element seals the walls of the pieces and provides a transparent glaze on the pottery.  Ceramists buy or exchange this wax with people in the border area of the equator (Ecuador) in the Condor Mountains, and can place orders for this element, which can take up to three months to arrive (Mincul, 2015).

There are a variety of latexes used by the Awajún, such as "leche caspi" (couma macrocarpa) or daún in the Awajún language. It is a white latex obtained from the  tree that is used to varnish the ceramic pieces. It can be applied all over the piece, both inside and outside, to cover porosities. It can also be used to draw designs on the vessel by mixing it with other elements such as fruitss, ashes or dry clay.

Chipa and shijíkap are other varieties of latex that Awajún women use to seal the pots, providing a finish that seals the porosities of the ceramics.


Awajún pottery tools are elements extracted from the forest and transformed to be used as working instruments by the women. Wooden tools, in particular, are made by the men, who give them to their wives so that they can work. Among the instruments they use to make pottery is the Púmput, which is a fulling pan consisting of a thick wooden board and a large oval stone. It is used to grind the bark that has been burnt and turned into ashes, and also to mix the apacharama bark with the clay to make the ceramic paste.

The tátag, also called tátan, is a thin wooden board on which the ceramic paste is placed, molded and for the prepared pot to be transported. The Kúishipip is also a small instrument used to mold the clay and smooth the pots. The Kúishipip is mainly made from the dried fruit of the tree known as Tsakáska (Jacaranda copaia), but any hard shell or plastic utensil can also be made.

On the other hand, the Jinchaag is a white, curved, elongated and small stone used to polish the pots before firing. The Intash ayaimu is a fine brush made of human hair and a ceramic or beeswax handle.

It is made by ceramists, who often use their own hair. These brushes come in a variety of sizes and are used to draw designs on the pots.