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An Introduction to Indigenous Pottery
An Introduction to Indigenous Pottery

 

Pottery is an important invention in the development of civilization. The characteristics of pottery have often been used by archaeologists to discuss the relationship between different prehistoric cultures. At the same time, pottery has proven to be an important commodity in daily life. Pottery has played an important role in cooking, storage, worship, burial, decoration and recreation for a long time.

Before the invention of pottery, the way people cooked was quite simple. Food was either barbecued on a stone pit, cooked on bamboo woven utensils applied with clay, or fired in a soil pit covered with hide. As time passed, our ancestors gradually understood the characteristics of soil, water, and fire. People gained wisdom to accumulate knowledge and technology to make all kinds of pottery by moulding clay into various utensils and shapes.

The Amis and Tao are the only two tribes in Taiwan that preserve the pottery making tradition. According to written records, the Bunun and Tsou traditionally held pottery making skills, but these skills were not preserved. The Ketagalan and Kavalan of the Siraya tribes in the north also had records of using pottery. The Paiwan and Rukai in the south had pottery making skills in the past as well; and the ancient pottery handed down from their ancestors were regarded as sacred which symbolized nobility and wealth. A great quantity of diverse types of pottery found in prehistoric sites around Taiwan indicate that pottery had played an important role in the lives of the indigenous peopole in early days of Taiwan. With the rising popularity of iron, plastic, and other substitutes, the aboriginal pottery culture declined in the twentieth century.

Soft pottery, generally fired at lower temperatures, was traditionally used by the indigenous people in Taiwan. Different tribes had slightly different ways of making pottery. However, in general, most of them made a semifinished product of pottery (called Pi in Mandarin) by moulding. Then they modified it by paddle and anvil, dried it in the shade, and finally fired it. Instead of being fired in kilns, pottery was fired in firewood piled up on the ground.

Although a professional potter was rare in traditional indigenous society, there was a strict and obvious division of gender among pottery makers. Only women could make pottery in the Amis and Tsou tribes, while pottery making is reserved for adult males for the Tao and Bunun.

In addition to gender restrictions, pottery was usually made during a fixed period in each tribe. During this time, traditional taboos and etiquette were followed while making pottery. As a result, we can not only see how tribes used their skills to meet daily needs, but also how social values affected the development of skills.

In the Union Catalog of Digital Archives, a series of real object images of pottery tools, vessels, culinary tools, ritual vessels and decorative handicrafts, and of pottery making tools are displayed. Through the display of images, we may catch a glimpse of life in the past. At the same time, images in these collections can help us understand the relationship and connection between pottery and life in the past.

 

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