women's pottery from the moroccan rif region

Early primitive ceramic techniques in this region date back to 6000 BC, and the pottery of the Rif still bears close resemblance to its origins: neither the techniques nor the patterns have changed much since the Bronze Age. After this particular style of pottery disappeared from most parts of the Mediterranean region and the Iberian Peninsula in the seventeenth century, the potters of the Rif are now the only ones to preserve this ancient tradition.

Each piece bears the individual mark of its maker. Shapes and decorations – or lack of décor – are all unique and and reflect both the origin and the dexterity of the potter.

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the different stages of production

Typically for this region, modeling and cooking techniques are very rudimentary. The ceramics are modeled without the use of a potter’s wheel. In a first step, the basic structure of the product is built by hand, using traditional coiling, flattening or pinching techniques. Then, the pieces are decorated on slip, using only natural pigments from minerals or vegetables, and goat hair brushes. Ocher red comes from diluted red clay or ground stone mixed with water. The dark, blackish-brown color comes from a manganese oxide stone. The finished pieces are then fired in an open bonfire or primitive pit kiln.

The women usually work alone or together with their sisters. Since most of them also have a family to take care of, they have to find a way to integrate their work into their domestic routine.

Furthermore, most of the production takes place in spring and summer, during the hottest time of the year, making it even harder.

rural products for domestic use

The pottery in question is of rural origin and intended only for domestic use (for storage of food such as butter or honey or to fetch water at the source and keep it fresh during long periods of drought). The ceramics are traded within the neighborhood or sold at the souk. Thus, women potters never leave the surroundings of their tribe.

the decoration of the pieces and the meaning of the symbols

The shapes and decorations of the pieces are specific to each tribe. The motifs are symbolically charged and carry a specific meaning. They can also be found on jewelry, fabrics, and even in the traditional tattoos that are common among women in that region. Anthropological researchers have tried to document the meaning of the symbols, but most still remain a mystery.

the future of women potters from the moroccan rif region

Due to recent developments, this ancient tradition is on the verge of disappearing. Women potters are isolated, scattered, and poorly paid for their work. There are about fifteen of them left today versus more than 200 in the 1980s.

For generations, the skills were passed on from mother to daughter, often being the only means for a woman to make a living. Nowadays, with girls getting a higher education, this succession is no longer guaranteed. In addition to that, the market for household goods is flooded with cheap mass products (mostly plastic), making it even harder to sell traditionally crafted ceramics to the general public. If this trend continues, the current generation of women potters might be the last.

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our goals

We at sumano try to raise awareness for this ancient craft by giving exposure to these beautiful traditional pieces all over the world and by looking for new horizons for this craft. To refuse all modernity would be to condemn ultimately what we are trying to protect.

In order to keep the tradition alive, we are truly convince that these women have to make it evolve themselves. We share contemporary pottery techniques with them, give them knowledge of the design skills involved in the creation of current pieces and show them that clay can be used as a creative and artistic medium with endless possibilities.

We also envision introducing new functional pottery goods that can be used in the present Moroccan daily life.