Visiting Assistant Professor of Music
Seeing the Nigerian vessel, also called clay pot, pot, or pot drum, at the Tang Teaching Museum invokes feelings of nostalgia for my childhood in the city and countryside of Nigeria. In the 1980s, a vessel was one of the most valuable household items in Nigeria. If a household had only one pot for water, it was likely found behind the kitchen door. But most families had more than one, placed in different corners of the house like the kitchen, bedrooms, and at the back of the house.
As the name implies, the clay pot is made with red clay, usually found near a stream, or with muddy soil. The clay is worked so that it holds firm when placed in a mold. When the molding is complete, the pot is kept under the hot sun or taken into a blazing furnace to dry. Then it is usually sterilized by turning the opening over a smoldering fire for more than thirty minutes before use.
There are no pre-designed molds into which the clay is cast, but rather, pots are made according to their functions. Potters hand-shape the clay before using patterned materials from soft woods, corncob, or textiles to make impressions on the body. Thus, it is difficult to find two clay pots with the same design or of exactly the same size. The patterns are functional rather than aesthetic: they give the pots a rough surface as a protective measure to aid in lifting them.