Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Temple ruins at Muarojambi sites, Sumatera, twelfth to thirteenth century CE © Arkhi

Pottery Making Traditions in Indonesia

Traditional pottery making in some areas in Indonesia has taken place since prehistoric period, especially during the craftsmanship era, which lasted until the early centuries of the Common Era, as shown by archeological findings. This tradition continued until the historical period in which Hinduism and Buddhism developed in some Indonesian societies (eighth to tenth centuries CE). Furthermore, the increasing number of ritual activities related to Hinduism and Buddhism temples led to a significant increase in demand for terracotta-based pottery in various forms, such as jugs, crocks, cups, urns, and pots as well as in materials for statues, architectural parts (walls and roofs), and ornaments in the peaks of roofs. In the Indonesian Hinduism-Buddhism period, a variety of pottery forms could be found in sacred structures—for example, in the foundation of the buildings and in the yard of the temples for ceremonies related to worshiping gods, sacralization ceremonies, and ceremonies to begin building temples.

Traditional pottery making, which has been practiced for centuries, is done through either dry or wet processing. The dry processing is considered more effective than the wet processing in regard to time, work, and costs. The wet processing system is usually done by the craftsmen with more advanced equipment, like land-soaking tubs, mixers, and water-absorbent tools. Since the wet processing system is more reliant on specialized equipment, the focus here is more on dry processing.

Dry processing method is done through several steps as follows: 1) refining raw materials, 2) sifting out the refined materials, and 3) mixing the main raw materials (soil) with additional materials (soft sand or stony soil powder or other materials). The composition of the mixed raw materials depends on the craftsmen’s taste. With the materials properly mixed, water is added to the mixture. Good end-product results are reliant on a proper balance of mixed materials and water. With the mixture ready, the shaping processes begin.

Some techniques of shaping the clay mixture include wheeling/throwing, casting, pinching, coiling as well as any mixture of these techniques. Generally, pottery craftsmen use wheeling/throwing techniques, although the related tools are quite simple. However, the pinching technique, which is a basic technique that is learned before other techniques, is preferred by craftsmen due to the soft hand-touches. Pottery shaping can be broken down into two broad steps—the early shaping stage (pottery body) and the decoration/ornaments making stage.

Once the clay is shaped as desired, it goes through a drying process, which can be done through exposure to either sun or wind. The pottery is considered dry when it does not have a lot of water inside; wet pottery goes through a firing process. Many traditional pottery craftsmen bake the pottery in an open space, such as a house yard or garden.

Baking pottery in the open area was also known in prehistoric times. Traditional pottery making in Indonesia is influenced by two big traditions of pottery making—Sahuynh-Kalanay and Bau-Melayu from 750 BCE to 1000 CE.1W.G. Solheim, “Two Pottery Traditions of Late Time in Southeast Asia” in Historical Archaeological and Linguistic Studies on Southern China, SE Asia, and Hong Kong Region, ed. F. S. Drake (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1967), 15-22 The pottery of the early metal period in Indonesia was found in gravesites in Plawangan (Central Java), Gilimanuk (Bali), Anyer and Cipari (Western Java), and Melolo (Sumba Island).2Santoso Soegondho, Tradisi Gerabah di Indonesia: Dari Masa Prasejarah Hingga Masa Kini. (Jakarta: Himpunan Keramik, Indonesia, 1995), 7. Today’s pottery baking techniques are considered advanced since they include the use of big baking fireplaces in enclosed areas.

Pottery making traditions have gone through a long history, and pottery is still used by the villagers in Indonesia for various needs, both secular and sacred.

Notes   [ + ]

1. W.G. Solheim, “Two Pottery Traditions of Late Time in Southeast Asia” in Historical Archaeological and Linguistic Studies on Southern China, SE Asia, and Hong Kong Region, ed. F. S. Drake (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1967), 15-22
2. Santoso Soegondho, Tradisi Gerabah di Indonesia: Dari Masa Prasejarah Hingga Masa Kini. (Jakarta: Himpunan Keramik, Indonesia, 1995), 7.