Kalabougou is a village about 1 hour by boat across the Niger River from Segou. The village dates from the time of the Bamana Empire, which thrived in the region from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The village is located at a side part of the river Niger. There are four quarters in the village, each with its own distinct population: one of numu (blacksmiths), one of Somono (fishing people), and two of Bamana farmers. Among the numu, the women (numumusow) traditionally make pottery and the men work with metal and wood. The potters of Kalabougou are major suppliers of pottery to the capital city of Bamako, 150 miles (241km) away, as well as to Segou.

The potters in Kalabougou operate on a weekly fabrication cycle that culminates with the Monday market across the river in Segou. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the clay mine is full of women and their daughters extracting the clay from the earth using axes (dabaw) fabricated by male numuw (blacksmiths). Men are not allowed in the mine. The clay is taken back to the village, which is several hundred yards away, on donkey carts often driven by the potters' sons. The women say that the location of the village is due to the superior quality of the clay deposit found in this spot.

Every Sunday the women bake the pots that are produced during the week. It is hard work to make the pots. At a storage place I saw a large amount of finished pots that should be sold on the market. Some of the pots are painted, others are just as they came from the fire. The fire place is made by putting branches of trees on the floor. On these branches the pots are placed and the whole lot is covered by grass. Before the fire is set, the surrounding is cleaned to prevent any contamination. The fire gives an extensive heat and during the fire it is almost impossible to come close by. The baking of the pots take about 4 hours. After the pots are cooled down, they are cleaned and sometimes decorated.

The part of the village we visited had also a big pool. This is used for all kind of purposes. The houses in this village are simple and there are no paved roads. During our visit we met a man who had to use a wheelchair for his transport. Not simple, but he seemed not to have any problems with his transport on wheels.

First published: 01 January 2010
Last update: 01 January 2010
© A. Heeroma

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