Spinning the Earth – The Ceramic Craftsmenship of Masbagik

It is often our journeys on land that stoke our passion to explore the seas, and perhaps no other stop on Sea Trek’s island-hoping itineraries provides a more striking difference to the open ocean and salty air than a visit to the village of Masbagik, a community that has mastered the art of working with fire and earth.

Although Eastern Lombok has always been a very poor region, the hills that surround the village of Masbagik are rich with a red clay that has been used to create ceramics for centuries.  Traditionally this local clay has been used to make household products, such as cups, pots, and water vessels.  But now, the pottery of Lombok is celebrating a time of renaissance, for the outside world has discovered the quality of the potter’s craftsmenship, and through Fair Trade organizations and established co-operatives,  the villagers of Masbagik have been able to earn a living from the very earth beneath their feet.  It is truely awe inspiring to watch these master craftsmen at work, as they continue to shape their future and master the art of spinning the earth.

A Sasak woman cradles her child amongst her collection of bird cages and drying pottery.  Many of the men of the village must seek work abroad, so it is the women left behind who must continue to pass down the pottery tradition, through skills handed down from mother to daughter.

The talented women of Masbagik shape the earth  with the help of simple tools like wood, bamboo, and stone. Their feet kick at a small wheel to keep the pots spinning. When  well- wishers provided the potters with new electric wheels, the machines went unused. The women prefer the speed and control of a wheel spun by their own  foot.

The classic “tall jars” of Masbagik not only make great pieces for home decor, but are used by locals as natural air conditioning by filling the jars with water to cool the tropical mid-day air.

Once formed, the damp pots are burnished to a soft shine with obsidian pebbles and left to dry. Next they are varnished with a mixture of coconut oil and silt which will produce shine and color.

Fuel for the kilns, coconut Husks are placed out to dry in the sun along with the pottery.

Ready for market! Masbagik earthenware is characterized by the use of geometric forms and intricate woven straw designs.

Obscured by his load, a Sasak man carries loads of grass on either end of a bamboo pole.  The grass must be gathered daily to keep the fires of the kiln burning strong.

Masbagik was traditionally one of the poorest villages in the regency of east Lombok, but new Fair Trade opportunities from countries overseas have helped provide an income for daily necessities, educational programs, and a hopeful outlook for the future of the village.

Browse through more images from Sea Trek’s Journeys through Lombok: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hazy_jenius/sets/72157631537720005/