Kukuo: Part 2

Having taken a long taxi ride to reach the wrong Kukuo a couple days prior, we were irritated to realize that the right Kukuo was right down the street from our hotel in Tamale. Well, irritated but also relieved that it was so close. Unless there was a third Kukuo in the area (which wouldn’t actually have surprised us), this was surely going to be the pottery-making village we had heard about.

We knew right away that we had reached the pottery-making Kukuo (more or less here), when we spotted a huge pile of smoldering hay, in which ceramic pots were being finished. Excellent! Arranging a tour wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but after all we had endured to reach this spot, we were not about to be denied. After a small amount of challenging back-and-forth in English/Dagbon/Sign-Language, we were seated legs-crossed in the small courtyard which connected a few of the adobe huts, and ready for our lesson.

I won’t bore you too much with the details of crafting clay into pots — there’s no magic to it, and if you’ve ever been in a third-grade crafts class, you know the drill. Wet your hands, work the clay, form the jar, smooth the jar, fire the jar, done. But it was still wonderful to watch these ladies at work. Their arms were ripped; untold hours working with clay is apparently excellent for the triceps.

Of course, there was the usual retinue of village children who were not going to be denied the joy of hanging out with foreigners. I had as much fun watching them as the pottery mavens. One girl reminded me strongly of my niece, teasing the others when the adults weren’t looking, then acting sweet as pie when they were. One little boy sat far away from us, staring with a look so distrustful and cute, I wanted to validate his suspicion by running over and tickling his stomach. Another boy was struggling to stay awake. Eventually, I looked back over at the pottery ladies, who had moved on from jars, to funny humanoid replicas of Jürgen and myself.

To everyone’s joy, I grabbed a hunk of clay and within minutes had formed a misshapen monstrosity I had meant to be a human. If they were laughing at my ineptitude, I couldn’t tell; this had by now turned into a kind of party. They asked if we were going to return tomorrow to collect the jars, after they had been fired. We told them that we wouldn’t have time, so they tossed the clay forms to the children, who did what children are supposed to do: joyously squish and destroy them, laughing until these beautiful jars had been turned back to simple, unformed clay.

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