Jidagaw (Water Storage Jar)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Bamana society is strickly heirachical—only the wives and daughters of blacksmiths (numuw) are authorised to make earthenware pots. This small group of women are known as numumusow (meaning 'blacksmith women') and form part of the larger nya-makaiaw (meaning 'handlers of nyama') group of artisans.

They are called nya-makaiaw because it is believed that they have the technical and spiritual knowledge needed to harness and control natural and supernatural energy (known as nyama), a skill vital in the manipulation and transformation of raw clay into pottery. Because of this skill, the ability to communicate with and mediate with the spiritual world, numumusow take on additional responsibilities including:

  • Offering spiritual protection and medicinal healing to their communities.
  • Participating in important events and ceremonies such as childbirth, baptisms, funerals, marriages.

One of the vessels made by numumusow are jidagaw water storage jars used to keep water cool and accessible. These jars form part of a young bride's marital possesions—objects that she takes with her into her final marital home (including cooking pots (dagaw), sauce pots (nadagaw), wash-basins (fagaw), and incense burners (wusulanbelew)). Kept outside, typically by a tree in the family's compound, the quality of a jidagaw water jar is said to be an external reflection on its owner.

Distinguishing Features

  • Handbuilt earthenware, pit fired, and unglazed vessel
  • Large ovoid or egg-shaped
  • Vessel’s base formed over a convex mould
  • Coils added to complete walls and lip
  • Surface of pot divided into horizontal bands
  • Older jidagaw are decorated with low-relief moulded or incised lines and designs
  • Motifs applied in relief include:
    • One or more moulded ridges encircling body of pot
    • Zigzag designs and geometric patterns
    • Anthropomorphic figures and breasts
    • Reptilian forms including lizards with outspread legs and snakes
  • Surface has a dark patina (created from vessel being smoked in pile of sawdust, peanut shells, millet, or rice chaff)
  • Modern pots painted with red slip designs prior to firing

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