Thursday, December 29, 2016

The enduring heritage of Vigan's burnay pottery

After a quick "immersion" into how inabel, the traditional ilocano cloth is woven, it was time to explore yet another part of Vigan's ancestral traditions  -- the centuries old craft of making burnay pottery.

First things first -- I asked the helpful hotel staff to hire a calesa that would take me to the city's 
few remaining camarin or paburnayan.   Within a few minutes my chariot, driven by a smiling 
Mang Adolfo was clip clopping down the street.

We headed towards Calle Gomez where most of the pagburnayan are.  There are two large factories, just a few meters away from each other -- Ruby's and RG Pottery.  
There were too many tourists crowded around Ruby's souvenir stalls so I left and headed off towards the quieter place across the street.  
RG Pottery has an expansive yard shaded by large trees.   No one seemed to be around so I walked towards the back where the kilns and pottery wheels are.

When you visit the pagburnayan, you are invited and encouraged to try your hand at the pottery 
wheel.  Guided by the potter, you are given a small lump of clay so that you can make  a small burnay jar.  
Of course the lump of clay ends out looking exactly like that -- a small lump masquerading as a pot or jar.   It  certainly makes you realise that pottery making is no easy task. 
Two people are needed to run the rather large stone wheel -- one to spin it continually with 
his foot and the other to form the clay into a work of art.

I wandered around the neat and clean camarin.  Jars stood neatly on one end,  these have gone 
through the huge kilns and are being cooled down.  

There are more jars stacked by the walls.  Burnay pottery are unglazed and are characterised by their dark colour.  The colour comes from  the clay that is used which can only be found in Vigan.  
Burnay jars are much heavier than other types of clay jars and are also very durable.  Notice how they are piled up one on top of the other without worry of breakage.

The tradition of burnay dates back to pre-Spanish times.  Jars were used as containers for water, 
salt, bagoong (fermented fish sauce) and even basi (a native wine).    Today, RG Pottery sells 
burnay water containers that come fitted with a spigot -- during our lola's times, you would probably scoop out the water using a small dipper.

RG Pottery has a store right outside the factory.  There are all kinds of jars in various shapes and sizes.  I was definitely going to buy at least one as a souvenir of my visit to the pagburnayan.

The owner of RG Pottery himself came out to attend to me.  This is Mang Aster who told me that 
this pagburnayan was started by his great grandfather.  He was proud of his role in helping sustain 
this  important part of Vigan's cultural heritage.

Here are the two burnay jars that I bought from RG Pottery.  Heeding  Mang Aster's advice, 
I bought a salt container  and a pretty decorative jar that would look good in the garden.


My burnay salt jar has been put to work in the kitchen.  Mang Aster promised me that the burnay would protect the salt from any moisture.   I use a platito to cover the top,  just as lola probably did!

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