Potter-women from Amatenango: part 1
Albertina and Maria are two artisans from Amatenango del Valle. Like many women in this place, they learned to make pieces of clay since they were children, imitating what their mother did. They played with the clay making little figures – for them it was the local clay with which they made little cups and saucers to play with.
Housework was exclusive to women, men went to the field to plant the cornfield and harvest. Then they sold the crops to earn money and take home sustenance. “We used to stay with my mother doing housework, and she also taught us to knead the mud. She would scold us to do it well, until little by little we succeeded. Pigeons have always been made in the family. We saw them in the field and then we did them at home “, says Albertina. “When we were grown up we learned the trade as it is: we used to get up early and go to the sandbanks. With a bar we dug very hard to grind the stone (limestone) and with our hands we sifted (filtered) it to remove the pebbles and fill the sacks with sand. Before there was no moto-taxi, so we trialed them back home” – says Maria.
Women have to store raw materials that they will use for work. Some women carry up to 50 sacks of 20 kilos each on several trips to be able to make their handicrafts. The same happens with the clay, which is extracted between the months of January to May during the dry season. When the rains begin it is impossible to do so. “The hard thing is to remove the mud. If you want to have the best one, that is the one that costs most effort, since it lays deeper. Rudy, when do you come with us to colect the clay?” they comment laughing at the same time that they imagine the scene.
Like the sand, the clay is accumulated in 20-kilo sacks and is transported by the potters to their home. Both the sandbanks and the place where the mud is extracted are on the shores of the town, so removing it and transporting it becomes a titanic task. Currently they receive help from men, since men have realized that it can be a productive activity and that it helps the family economy. In some successful families, the roles have been reversed and it is women who provide sustenance and employ family members, including men.
“Around the town there are still some stones that once ground serve us as paints and give color to the clay. If you grind the yellow stone, then the red clay comes out, and if you don’t add it then it comes out natural. It is difficult to get the black color, it is almost unavailalbe. I have some stones that my mother left me, but I don’t use those, I only have them as souvenirs ” continues Albertina with her story.
Amatenango del Valle is located on a small elevation called a fertile valley covered with cornfields, located 38 km from San Cristóbal de la Casas on the federal highway to Comitan de Domínguez. Best known for the excellent pottery made by its inhabitants, who still use pre-Hispanic methods to make it.