Pottery in the Port of Pots

Rama Ariadi / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
With more modern throwing wheels, Kampong Chhnang potters can produce more designs in larger volumes, which translates to larger profits. KT/Jean-Francois Perigois

The name Kampong Chhnang, literally means the ‘Port of Pots’, and the name came about with a very good reason – the area’s reputation for producing high-quality pottery predates the zenith of the Khmer Empire by two whole centuries. Located just at the foothills of Phnom Dey Meas – as literally, gold earth mountain – the area is blessed by the abundance of the yellowish clay that is used by local villagers to make pots so superior, that it became the namesake of the province and is featured on the official logo of the Kampong Chhnang.

The traditional process of making ka-orm – a traditional round bottomed pot – begins with the excavation of the prized, golden-clay, which are still mined manually from holes in the ground that would give anyone with claustrophobia a run for their money. The clay, which unlike the clay from other areas in the kingdom possesses a distinct, yellowish-tinge, which is then hauled to be moistened to make it malleable.

Originally, craftsmen and craftswomen from the area relied on a very rudimentary technique that originated in the 6th century, using paddles and sticks to beat the clay into submission. But as the Khmer Empire reaches its zenith, more modern means of shaping the clay – using throwing wheels and what not – rendered the ancient technique obsolete, although remnants of the process are still evident, even as more and more craftsmen adopt more modern techniques and aesthetics.

After the clay is pummeled into the desired shape, the product is left to dry before it is fired in a kiln – wherein bales of hay and dried grass are still used to keep the fire burning at a temperature high enough for the product to set.

This practice almost disappeared altogether as conflict swept through the country – but it managed to come back, stronger than ever. With more modern throwing wheels, Kampong Chhnang potters can produce more designs in larger volumes, which translates to larger profits. But without proper preservation and protection, this traditional method of pot-making which has managed to survive the test of time, may disappear altogether from the Port of Pots.

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