| Two elderly women pound clay with wooden pestles at Lyrnai village in West Jaintia Hills. Picture by Kormiyaki Lamarr |
Lyrnai (West Jaintia Hills), Oct. 30: The dilapidated road leading to this village provides no clue to the uninitiated about its extraordinary wealth in the form of a distinctive art of making earthenware.
Handed down from generation to generation, this art is unique to this small hamlet inhabited by around 100 families, located in West Jaintia Hills district. It is around 7km from Ummulong village along National Highway 44, under the Nartiang doloiship (traditional institution), nearly 60km from Shillong.
Surrounded by foliage in the lap of nature, the hint of fresh vegetation permeates the sense of terra madre (mother earth) when one ventures into this hamlet.
On entering the compound of Pelina Pyrtuh, two elderly women were seen pounding clay with wooden pestles, which marks the actual commencement of the process of making earthenware.
It is only after the clay is ready that the women sit down to delineate shapes to the earthenware with bare hands and sticks. Once the desired shape is attained, the pots are dried either under the sun or beside the hearth.
The clay used for making the pots is transported from Sung Valley, a fertile region of Jaintia Hills, an hour’s trudge from the hamlet.
The earthenware manufactured from Lyrnai sans any modern technology is referred to as Kchu Lyrnai.
The clay pots are used for baking the local delicacy, putharo (steamed rice bread) or even rice and curry. Some years ago, the pots were also used in the preparation of the local brew. There are pots that have been made for gifting people as souvenirs.
According to Pelina, the Sung Valley clay is extracted from the area under the control of the Nartiang doloiship. “While the clay is extracted free of cost, we provide the clay pots to the doloi (traditional chief of Nartiang) whenever he asks for them,” Pelina, who inherited the art from her forefathers, said.
The pots are often used by the doloi to perform rituals.
To consolidate the art form, a group of women from the village formed the Seng Kynthei Pyrtuh Pottery Organisation way back in 1983. The organisation is registered with the state government and has 16 members. These members have been drawn from the Pyrtuh, Warlarpih and Shadap clans.
Pelina said it was difficult to meet the demand for this kind of earthenware. “The demand is high, especially from Shillong. But we find it difficult to cater to all, especially when the monsoon is prolonged,” she said.
Although the art has withstood the test of time, the artistic ability has not received the recognition it deserves.
For instance, the finished products are stored in a thatched hut next to Pelina’s house. And during the monsoon, it becomes practically impossible for the women to prepare the pots for want of an appropriate place to work in.
Considering the apathy surrounding the art form, will the next generation be able to withstand the duress or will the legacy of Kchu Lyrnai be rendered into oblivion?
“I am really not sure as to how long this art will survive although my children (who are now adults) are still practising the art. But I hope the legacy will continue to be upheld for more generations to come,” Pelina said, before hurrying back to carry on with the making of the earthenware after a brief interlude.