Feats of clay Print E-mail
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Feats of clay
The prepation process
Baking in the kiln

Next, the pots are placed in the kiln, usually built into one of the nearby burial mounds, though of late, gas kilns are becoming more widely used. The pots are baked for 10-12 hours, after which they are placed in a pool of water to cool off.

The potters of A'ali create pots of virtually every size, and in a wide variety of styles. Until the early Seventies, says Jaffer, they would not use any paints; now with decorative pots becoming increasingly popular, colourful pots are evident everywhere.

Tourists usually buy the smaller pieces, which is natural considering size and weight are issues when travelling. The most popular items with visitors are money boxes and flower vases.

Bahrainis and foreigners resident in Bahrain prefer to buy the bigger decorative pots, as do many Saudis who usually drive across the border and can transport these items easily by car.

Despite the resurgence in interest for pots as decorative items, there are very few families still left in the trade in A'ali. When Jaffer was a youngster, two-thirds of A'ali's residents were involved in the pottery industry. Over time, as cheaper alternatives came to market, many families in the business were forced to take up other professions, and by the Seventies there were only 15 family units left in the business.

Today there are just seven, of which Jaffer's A'ali Pottery is the biggest and best-known.

Jaffer himself has four sons, Mohammed, Majid, Abdulla and Zakariah; and all except Mohammed have followed him into the business. The grandchildren are also happy to help out. The evening that I visited, Abdulla's children Jameel, 15, Jaffer, 14, and Ali, 8, were moulding clay, having returned from school in the afternoon.

Young Jaffer enjoys the work. "I like this more than football," he confided. He started working at the wheel at the age of seven, and proudly recalls that the grandfather after who he was named sold his first piece, a small shisha, for 100 fils (about 40 cents).

While happy that his family maintains an involvement in this traditional craft, the elder Jaffer is saddened by the general decline in interest in A'ali.

"Pottery originated in Bahrain," says Jaffer. "Poverty drove our potters to seek their fortunes across Bahrain's shores, to Iraq, Turkey and other countries."

Potters from these countries even now trace their roots to Bahrain, says Jaffer, who himself has relatives in Iraq.

While he has a lot of family help in the trade, Jaffer even now often sits at the wheel and creates beautiful pots.

Does he still enjoy what he doing? "Absolutely," says Jaffer. "If people who steal and thieve get pleasure from what they do, how much better is it for people like me who are creating art!"