Pottery is a traditional form of cottage industry of Majuli. Pots were generally exchanged for paddy, which is the staple food of the inhabitants of this island. Therefore, especially after the harvesting season the potters travel from village to village to exchange pots for paddy. Historically pots were marketed from Dhuburi to Sadiya along the Brahmaputra. Kumars are the main communities practicing pottery in the Majuli. The Kumars are concentrated mainly in Salmora, Chinatoli and Daksinpath i.e. mostly in the south-eastern area of the Majuli. They use a different technique of pottery making in which the potter's wheel is not used. Clay is beaten by hand to give the form of the utensils. These methods suggest a historic origin of this activity.
Once again, the annual weather patterns prevalent on the island govern the manufacture processes of pottery practiced. During the pre monsoon period, the earth is dug with shallow pits spread wide to store earth during the floods. During the flood season of June to September, alluvial deposition occurs during flood on river banks filling the cavities and dugouts left after extraction of clay. There is predominant infilling of dugouts with clay deposits from heavy silt and sandy loam discharge.
The post flood season in Majuli is the predominant trading time for the 26 varieties of earthen pots produced such as mola, nadia, choru, pati kalah, becha lkalah, chaki etc. The women prepare the puddle with clay, silt sandy mix for primary lump. The making of pots is primarily a woman's job. They give it shape by hand, dry it in the sun and bake it in a furnace. The men prepare the furnace with bamboo, banana leaves and driftwood. Drift wood and other fuel wood are used to fire the furnace for 8 hours and 4 hours alternatively. Burnt furnaces with smoke and bright red appearances continue to dominate landscape for days and nights. The higher water level also helps in transporting the finished products to markets and trade centers.
Nearly 5000 people depend on this traditional style of pot making for their livelihood. Pottery is a hereditary profession. It is practiced by the successive generations of the community members, irrespective of their castes. Potters are dependent on the river Brahmaputra as it provides clay required for making pots. The river is also the prime means of transportation for trade of the pots. The tools required to make pots are made from locally available timber and bamboo. These are made by the potters themselves.
MATERIAL RESOURCE BASE
Glutinous clay is obtained from the river banks of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries which form a network of water channels which are significant in overall drainage system of the Majuli Island. Clay required for making pots is procured from clay pits about 30 feet deep from the ground along the banks of the river. These get replenished during the annual floods of the river. Hence, the availability of the clay is in abundance. The tools required for making pots are made from the locally available timber by potters themselves.
In high floods, driftwoods from the upper reaches of Arunachal, Naga Hills and other tributaries floating in the Brahmaputra River are caught with boat. The collection continues till night and lasts almost entire flood time. Woods are staked in the front yard of the house, used for firewood in the firing of the kiln. It is a community activity with sharing of firewood between the people.