Age-old Cham pottery tradition vanishing without support: UNESCO

By Hieu Nhan   December 1, 2022 | 04:28 am PT
Age-old Cham pottery tradition vanishing without support: UNESCO
Artisan Don Thi Hieu demonstrates the art of Cham pottery making. Photo by VnExpress/Ngan Duong.
UNESCO has placed the art of Vietnamese Cham pottery on its list of endangered cultural heritages in need of emergency help.

The list was revealed Tuesday at a meeting of the global body’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Cham pottery traditional was one of 56 customs reviewed by UNESCO before publishing the list.

Women historically craft most customary Cham pottery, which includes household and kitchen items – jars, pots, trays and vases – as well as religious objects and art.

Instead of using the pottery wheels popular in the west (also known as turntables), Cham women walk around the wet clay as they sculpt it with their hands.

They then bake the pottery outdoors with firewood and straw for seven to eight hours without glazing it. It cooks at uniquely low temperatures of about 800 degrees Celsius.

Other ceramicists typically glaze their pieces before cooking them over fiery temperatures of around 1,1620-1,240 degrees Celsius.

The Cham tradition also entails collecting all raw materials locally rather than buying items from other regions.

A representative of the Vietnam Department of Cultural Heritage said Cham artisan families traditionally pass down knowledge and techniques verbally from one generation to the next.

This practice gives women the opportunity to exchange ideas and interact with each other in both communal productive labor and social activities. It also provides education and vocational training for their children, who are then able to contribute positively to their communities.

For hundreds of years, the organic continuance of this technique has preserved the customs and cultural identities of Cham society in Vietnam.

A worker adds red basalt soil to pottery to infuse color. Photo by VnExpress/Ngan Duong.

A Cham ceramicist infuses pottery with red basalt soil for color. Photo by VnExpress/Ngan Duong

However, Cham villages now lack access to their traditional raw materials and younger generations of Cham people are now leaving their communities to earn livings in urban areas with no need of Cham cultural products.

Covid-19 raised local production costs while slashing demand, leaving many Cham artisans in the lurch.

Many have stopped producing their more diverse products altogether.

Director of the Department of Cultural Heritage Le Thi Thu Hien said measures will be taken to safeguard Cham pottery, including a 2023-2026 plan to study the Cham pottery industry and train new potters, while also developing solutions to the raw material shortage and teaching more sustainable practices to artisans.

go to top