The Women of Kalabougou

The Women of Kalabougou
was published in the Spring 2007 Special Pottery issue of African Arts.

The article includes 14 images with extended captions.

Pottery and Metal
Pottery and Metal

Kalabougou is a village across the Niger River from Segou, Mali. The village dates from the time of the Bamana Empire which thrived in the region from the 17th –19th centuries. There are four quarters in the village each with its own distinct population, one numu (blacksmith), one Somono (fishing people), and two are Bamana farmers. Among the numu traditionally, the women make pottery (numumusow) and the men work with metal and wood. The potters of Kalabougou are major suppliers of pottery to the capital city, Bamako, 150 miles away as well as to Segou.

In 1994, Janet received a Fulbright Fellowship to do research in Mali. As part of her research, she lived in the numuw (blacksmith) quarter of Kalabougou for several months in early 1995. Because her interest was in working with women who make things, she spent time getting to know the potters and their way of life, documenting it in video and still images such as those in the photo essay that follows. Since Janet is not a potter, she didn’t make many pots in Kalabougou. The women work so hard that she couldn’t see adding to their task by asking them to teach her the rudiments of something she was not going to use. Janet has remained in touch with the potters ever since, visiting almost annually. All of the photos presented here were taken in early 1995.

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