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Paradijon potters: Reviving the culture of pottery in Sorsogon town

SORSOGON CITY, Sorsogon (PIA) – Paradijon pottery in Gubat, Sorsogon plays a vital role in preserving and promoting the local community's traditional pottery-making techniques and artistry. By continuing to create pottery using traditional methods, the artisans keep their cultural heritage alive and pass down their knowledge to future generations. 

The Paradijon clay craft can be traced back to pre-colonial times when generations of families practiced the clay craft and achieved mastery of producing and shaping clays in various forms of functional art. 

Paradijon is a local term for coron (pot) makers and is where Barangay Paradijon in Gubat town was derived.

Paradijon Pottery Workers Association members and volunteers share their experiences during an interview with PIA Sorsogon.
A Paradijon Pottery Workers Association member enjoys harvesting vegetables.

Paradijon Pottery Workers Association 

The Paradijon Pottery Workers Association (PPWA) of Gubat was organized in 2020 and was approved by the Department of Labor and Employment as an association. 

With 30 members and volunteers from Barangay Paradijon, its mission is to passionately work to bring back the pottery culture that is now slowly dying. 

According to Rodel Pancho, one of the organizers and consultants of PPWA, the association has leveled up from the "kanya-kanya" or each their own system to an organized group. 

"With the help of the pottery center, their products are bought at a reasonable price and the center now takes charge of marketing." 

Moreover, the livelihood of these artisans is augmented through the introduction of vegetable and root crop planting programs in a lot lent to the association for free. This supplements their need for food, especially during rainy days or when they can't get clay for their pottery works. 

At present, the association's funds come from well-off Gubatnon donors and professionals who finished their education and landed a good job through the help of pottery works.

Testimonies of experience and inspiration

Aga Eduarte, a local media practitioner and resident of Bacon District in Sorsogon City, shared his old thought that clay pots are more expensive than the commonly used "kaldero" or cauldron, but found out to be cheaper than he imagined. A medium-sized pot he bought was sold at P150 and its bigger size at P200. 

"When we were young, we used "palayok" or clay pots for cooking. Rice became more aromatic when cooked in a clay pot with banana leaves covered on top of the rice."

He said that jars they called "dulay" were used to store safe drinking water. The water kept in dulay gets colder and more refreshing. Old folks used to burn rice hulls inside the jars before storing the drinking water, an ethnic style of keeping the water in a more aromatic and fresher way. 

Clay jars are also best used for fermenting vinegar and "kuyog", a very small rabbit fish abundant in Bacon District, Sorsogon City, and in areas surrounding the Pacific Ocean. 

A regular buyer at Paradijon Pottery Center, Aubrey Samantha Eva, shared how she was inspired by her Filipino teacher in high school to patronize earthenware as classroom decorations. 

Barangay Councilor Aida Enguerra, a volunteer of PPWA, shared how her mother taught her about pottery making until she mastered the skill. 

The Paradijon Pottery Center 

The center, founded with a heart for art, creativity, and empowerment by concerned artisans and individuals, showcases earthenware that is distinct and especially crafted by traditional potters from Barangay Paradijon. This display center carries not just the pottery works, but more importantly, the dreams and aspirations of a community of artisans who once belonged to a thriving industry that is much part of the heritage and culture of the town. 

These clay products are totally free of toxic materials and are eco-friendly.
Jars or "dulay" are used for fermentation and for storing drinking water. Water kept in dulay gets colder and aromatic.

Shirley Del Rosario is a store salesperson at Paradijon Pottery Center. During her testimony, she spoke about the high demand for their pottery products. She noted that they have buyers coming in every day who appreciate the quality of their products. She attributes this to the manual process of production that is carefully crafted by master potters, ensuring that each piece is designed and durable. 

Their best-selling products during the pandemic have been pots (masetera) used for plants and cooking pots (palayok). Jars are also popular, but require more time to produce, so they are pre-ordered. 

This display center in Paradijon, Gubat, Sorsogon showcases distinct clay products that attract buyers to come back.

Despite being located in a small town, Paradijon Pottery Center has buyers from as far away as Manila, Cavite, and Samar. These buyers either visit them personally or place their orders through the Paradijon School of Pottery Facebook page. 

Del Rosario volunteered to join the association because she wanted to help sustain the livelihood of unemployed mothers who are part of the center's workforce.

Pottery making, the Paradijon way 

The traditional process of making Paradijon pottery involves a community of individuals and artisans who band together to produce earthenware which takes about two to three weeks or even a month depending on weather conditions. 

Victoria Estolas, a member of the PPWA and a master potter by experience, explained and demonstrated manual pottery making, the Paradijon way. 

In her sharing, clay gatherers (parakal-ot) go out to secure the needed raw materials. Clay comes in different types such as himulot na baga (red), himulot na itom (black), baras and porog. After transporting it back to the community from the mountain several kilometers away, the clay is subjected to manual pounding with a wooden pestle by clay refiners or clay purers to break down the material. 

Clay refiners are experts in mixing stones, sand, clay, and water to produce different types of potting materials to be used in making plant pots (masitera), jars (dulay/tapayan/banga), cooking pots, and clay toys. The pounding process called pag-lubok or pag-dusang, could take about a minimum of two to three hours to refine the clay with enough elasticity and viscosity. 

After pounding, it is shaped into a ball and covered with plastic for some curing and to let it release air bubbles. After two to three days, the clay becomes more compact but still retains its elasticity. The next step is to mold it into clay products depending on what type of refined clay to produce. 

Then it is left to dry for about two to three weeks, depending on the weather. Before it goes into the fire, the polishers put red clay (purog) to cover up the dullness and obtain that red color. Then it goes for firing up in the makeshift, open-air kiln with rice straw or dried grasses, or pili shells used as fuel.  Firing up the clay products can take about seven hours in a single round. 

Master potters utilize two artisanal techniques for molding clay. For cooking pots, water storage jars, and plant pots, they use the wooden paddle and anvil (pikpik at bato) method. To create the clay stove and layer (sampau), they used the manual potter’s wheel (bayangan) and a piece of cloth to polish the clay (babyang). They are free to use both methods as needed. 

Master potter Victoria Estolas demonstrates the traditional method of pottery making.
Clay is pounded, shaped into a ball and molded into clay produts.
These wooden paddle and anvil (pikpik at bato) are used by artisans to create high-quality cooking pots, water storage jars and plant pots.
After drying, the clay products are fired up in the makeshift, open air kiln with rice hulls for about seven hours in a single round.

Challenges faced by the artisans

The traditional Paradijon clay craft, handed down through personal coaching, observation, and repeated exposure by master potters, has been affected by several challenges over the past few decades. Immediate intervention, either from government or non-government entities, is needed to ensure that this cultural and economic legacy is not threatened and wiped out.

Master potters require a production area that is far from residential homes, so as not to disturb residents with the smoky kiln. They also need a covered drying area and storage facility to produce clay products at a shorter time.

The craft also faces the challenges of the times in terms of benchmarking, upgrades in skills and design, as well as the introduction of modern technology to step up production that could meet the market’s demand.

The artisans, instead of earning a bigger profit, get meager income since they have to pay the clay gatherer, transportation fees, and manual labor.

Furthermore, with stiff competition now, artisans become more vulnerable to economic hardships. Eventually, some potters refrained from producing clay pots and sought other means to survive, and worst, they discouraged their children from pursuing pottery making. The master potters, too, are aging and without the youth practicing the craft, the industry will soon perish.

Government’s intervention 

Recognizing these challenges, the PPWA sought the help of various partners. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) granted them P1.3-M worth of tools and equipment, including training under the Community Empowerment through the Science and Technology (CEST) program, and a counterpart of P1-M by the local government unit of Gubat for the construction of a building, all ready for implementation. 

The primary objective of PPWA’s effort is to transfer both traditional pottery technology and the modern way of pottery making to the younger generation. They plan to put this project inside Gubat National High School, in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd). This will be called Gubat National High School Pottery Cum Livelihood and Training Center (GNHS-PLTC). 

GNHS-PLTC is a program-partnership between the Community Pottery Center, Gubat National High School, DepEd, and DOST. It will include training and production for students and local artisans. 

“This will serve as a training laboratory for students under the Technology and Livelihood Education (TLE) and Technical-Vocational-Livelihood (TVL) track specializations so that in a way, we can formalize the training and continue the pottery culture of Paradijon. Its physical structure will also serve as the main distribution center of clay products to keep the retail prices stable and profitable and install a modern kiln for firing clay products,” Pancho further explained. 

Perspective, engineering and architectural design of the school of pottery and multi-purpose building. (Photo: Paradijon Pottery FB Page)

Pottery holds a special place in the lives, history, and culture of PPWA. By revitalizing this art, they hope to revive the industry. (PIA 5/Sorsogon)

About the Author

Benilda Recebido

Information Center Manager

Region 5

Benilda "Bennie" Recebido is the Information Center Manager of PIA Sorsogon.

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