Baoulé Pottery in Tanoh Sakassou, Côte d'Ivoire
Just east of Bouaké, in the center of Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa, you will find Tanoh Sakassou. This small village of less than 600 people happens to be home to some of the finest, most interesting tradition-based pottery in the country. A collective of potters, founded more than 30 years ago by Chief potter Koua Aya, works inside the thatched "magasin" (French for shop). Each woman's (or man's -- Aya's son is also a potter) work is distinctly their own. There are traditional forms that are followed, but within this collective, innovation and unique designs are always found. This collective (with the exception of the time during "la crise" -- the coup, civil war, and civil unrest during the 2000s) has consistently had buyers from within the country and from tourists, and with this attention the potters have likewise maintained their own high standard.
Aya, with whom I lived and studied in 1996-97, is a master potter. She holds herself and those around her to the highest standards. When I made my first pot, she bluntly told me "C'est pas jolie." It is not pretty, in French. I can't imagine what she said in Baule. When I was recently (and finally) back in the village last summer, nothing had changed in the wry smile, gentle eyes, and incomparable hands of this incredible woman. She was making the pots of her life -- still as balanced, finely wrought, and distinct as any pot I've ever seen.
If you are in Côte d'Ivoire, do not miss the opportunity to visit these potters. Buy a few pots -- mine, well packed in my bags, made it back fine. Pay them what they ask. This is not a market -- do not haggle. The prices are staggeringly low in any case. The process and pride in each of the pots is worth much more than you will pay.
HOW TO GET THERE
Tanoh Sakassou (also spelled Tanou Sakassou) is located to the East of Bouake, about 12 kilometers. Many people when you ask them will immediately think you are asking about Sakassou, a much larger town to the West of Bouake. Make sure you clarify. Below is Tanoh Sakassou on Google maps - I have marked the village. The magasin is at the top (north) of the village.
There is a taxi stand for collective taxis going to the village in the east part of the market area, not as far as the petrol stations, on the road to Kennedy (a housing district). Otherwise, you can hire a taxi, and follow these directions. The much larger, more known village of Kouassiblekro is on the right side of the road just before the turn off on the left to Tanoh Sakassou. Try to get a Baule driver.
Feel free to email me with any questions you might have.
|THE POTS AND STUDIO||THE PROCESS|
|*Baule is the English spelling and Baoulé is the French spelling. This is both the name of the people and the language.|