Roadside Encounters: The Pedi potter
I tried pottery once. I still have the lumpy mugs and ungainly bowls on my shelves to prove it.
It was just after I’d given it up for a lark that I met Pedi potter, Joanna Mochidi. That was years ago, and she was already well over 80 years old.
The village where she lived, near Melkrivier up in the Waterberg, was called Daggakraal and was endearingly traditional. There were chickens scratching about thatched huts, a few lines of sugar cane and the withered remains of a harvested corn crop.
Joanna, a humble woman who barely speaks a word of English, made clay pots in the old way, entirely from materials gathered about her.
First, the clay had to be collected from the riverbed, preferably in the early dry season, before it got too hard. The summer rainy season, in any case, is too busy with planting and harvesting to be done, whereas the winter heat dries out the pots to a certain hardness before they’re fired, minimising the risk of cracks.
Joanna, a humble woman who can barely speak a word of English, made clay pots in the old way, entirely from materials gathered about her.
One of homestead’s huts was a studio where she shaped the pots using fragments of calabashes before burnishing it with seed pods. The only item she used that was not directly from nature was an old, rusted galvanised steel bowl that gave the pot shape.
Just behind the kraal was a pit Joanna had dug to fire her pots, using cow dung, dry wood and grass for fuel. Overnight in the fire, the pots of blackish clay become rich and mottled, each with its own unique dappling of colours ranging from terracotta to orange, yellow, grey and black. The pots’ round bases allowed them to stand on any surface.
Incredibly, Joanna is still making pots, teaching her children and grandchildren the art. She is listed as one of the attractions on the Waterberg Meander. Even international ceramicists have visited her, intrigued by the way she creates something of grace and utility out of nothing but her own knowledge and river clay.