Report on October 2011 visit to South West Bay Malakula Is. Vanuatu
Continuation of Pottery Project by Alistair Whyte
Left Melbourne on Wednesday 12th and transited in Brisbane to Port Vila Vanuatu where I stayed overnight before catching a domestic flight to Norsup in the morning.
Met up with Fremden Shadrack in Vila from TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training), and traveled with him. Fremden was to come on to South West Bay to have talks and oversee the developments in this project and is wanting to recommend Ken for training as a trainer of pottery. After arrival in Norsup, I took a truck across the Island to Lambooboo bay and then a boat orgainzed by Ken Naki along the coast to South West Bay. (It makes it a long day of travel)
Quite against my expectations, this time I was met on the beach by quite a few and given a formal welcome with flowers round the neck and a short speech. I was also given my own hut to stay in (One that had been built for the Peace Corps visitor who had been based there for the last two years). The hut had been built by Ken. I was also very well looked after by the women of the village who kept me well fed, and decorated the hut each day with beautiful flowers. Every morning one is woken up by singing in the church at 4am by the women of the village. Then breakfast turns up at 6am. Besides this the roosters make sure you don’t sleep in.
While I stayed in Labo Village this trip we made quite a few significant steps forward with this project. We mixed up a few different clay bodies that people brought to us from the bush to trial. I was also able to obtain some very fine black volcanic beach sand from the Southern Malakula beaches that I had been told about on a previous trip, to mix in with the clay. This, because Sailon Silas from Lembinwyn village paddled his canoe two hours round the coast and then walked for four hours to get some for me.
We also used the ceramic fiber I had sent out on a yacht from Australia and lined a forty four gallon metal drum to create a small kiln to fire pottery in. We created a firebox from local volcanic stone using local clay mixed with beach sand as mortar. We built this kiln base inside the building that Ken has been making for the pottery down on the beach front. In the week after I return home he intends to put on the thatch roof and the woven bamboo walls, that will largely complete the building.
Over the period of my visit we made a variety of pots including beads using a variety of techniques to further test the local clay bodies. The pottery kick wheel that I had shipped out on a previous occasion was also transported up outside Ken’s kitchen where we set up a base for the duration. We did complete what I consider to be a successful first, historic firing in Malakula, achieving 1000 degrees Celsius firing on wood. The result being some very vitrified pots. Ken will need to continue to practice wood firing to master the skill and achieve a high success result, however this first firing achieved all we set out to do and more. It has certainly sparked further interest among the locals in the possibilities of fired pottery. In December there is a cruse ship due so here is a further incentive for Ken to make some more pottery in preparation for that visit.
I have also managed this time, to take back to Australia a couple of types of local clay and some of the black beach sand for further testing. I am interested to see what will happen if I blend in some kaolin and mix the clays in different ways.
On one occasion Ken and I walked to the local primary school in Lawa village and talked to the local school children and teachers showing them some of the basics of pottery and making a coil built pot for them.
There is a local project building tourist accommodation down by the sea and this building was continuing while I was there. This ties in with my aims to bring a small group of potters mid next year for workshops to help boost the local pottery skills, and provides a good incentive for the completion of that project because this is where they intend to put us up. There are also other bungalows being built or planned around the bay, so the locals are clearly thinking ahead to the time when the local airstrip is complete and people can visit more readily apart from those on yachts who already come. While in South West Bay this time I had the opportunity of a day in a canoe, paddling from near Lolow village to Lembinwyn and then up to the end of the lagoon before returning tired and a little sunburnt, but with a much better understanding of the local geography. There are many village gardens around the lagoon on the slops of the hills. I was very fortunate with the weather experiencing next to no rain and while it was hot some days it was not oppressively so. There was, also almost no signs of mosquitoes at night despite having the protection of a net, which I only used on two occasions. Mostly there was a cool onshore breeze which made sleeping most pleasant.
When I traveled back to Port Vila I stayed with David Sherar, an expat Australian with a particular interest in pottery as a hobby. He is taking part in a trade fair from the 17th of Novemberfor four days on the water front in Vila, at which time he will be holding Raku firings to demonstrate pottery and glazing. I helped him mix up some glazes and do a trial firing at his home before I returned to Australia. This was most successful and should prove to be very popular when it is demonstrated. David has invited Ken to come and be part of these proceedings and I can only recommend highly that Ken be assisted in attending this as he would learn a lot of valuable knowledge from the experience as well as demonstrating the local interest in the revival of pottery in Vanuatu. It is also an opportunity to make some glazed pottery.
While in Vila I also met Sylvester another Ni Vanuatu man from Penticost Is. who is building a pottery Studio and actively looking for local Vanuatu clay that he can use.
Erik who teaches art at the local Teachers college is another man actively involved in making and selling pottery though I do not think he is using local Vanuatu clay. I also went with David to visit Won Smal Bag , who are interested in setting up a pottery studio in Vila that can be accessed by any visiting Ni Vanuatu and be a place where visiting potters can give brief workshops. Before I left I made sure I visited the Live & Learn Office in Vila and talked with Tracy with whom I shall continue to correspond. I showed her the fired pots from Malakula and gave her a breakdown on what we had achieved this time, which was a significant move forward.
I am very thankful to Live & Learn for their assistance this time in getting to SW Bay so that we can progress many aspects of this project.
I also discovered this time that if you have 24 hours before departure in Vila and can put this in before 3pm there is a service at quarantine (for a small payment) to fumigate any woven mats and baskets, which makes it much easier to take things back to Australia. They provide a certificate to state what has been treated and with what.
raku firing in Vila at David’s place
fired raku pots
loading kiln for firing in SW Bay
firing the kiln
some of the fired results