Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia:
Collections in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Print | Back to Normal Layout

Cooking pot

  • Earthenware with resin coating
  • 22.8 x 26.3 cm
  • 19th-mid 20th century, Nguyen dynasty
  • Origin: Central Highlands, Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.198


Pot of globular form with wide flaring mouth, round bottom; covered by bowl-shaped lid.
Clay: red earthenware, blackened by reduction firing.
Glaze: none.
Decoration: none.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 10 July 2002) According to Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, HCMC, this type of pot is made by ethnic minority groups near Da Lat (Jarai, Sedang?).

2. (Louise Cort, 30 June 2003) Mr. Tran Ky Phuong, independent researcher, Da Nang, said he had never seen pots of this sort. They were definitely not by Katu potters (ethnic minority group living in the mountains above the old Cham area of Central Vietnam). Given the use of vegetable sap to coat these pots, he wondered whether they were not the products of Cham potters (the Cham potters in Tri Duc (Palay Gok), Bac Binh, Binh Thuan province, apply hot resin to their fired pots) making products for trade to the minority groups.

3. (Louise Cort, 14 July 2006) According to Dr. Lu Hung, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, the formation of the base of this pot appears different from the bases we saw being made by Ede and Ba Na potters during our research trip to the Central Highlands in March. The bases on pots made by Ede, Ba Na, and Ma potters are rounder, less angular than this.

4. (Louise Cort, 19 October 2006) Three small Chinese jars in the Musée du Quai Branly (acc. nos. 71.1968.2.173–175), all collected by Daniel Leger from Bahnar Jolong communities in Kon Tum province, Central Highlands, bear thick translucent coatings of brown "vegetal resin" that obscure the glaze (and decoration, where present) and render the color of the surface the color known locally as "dead leaf." Those jars are used in annual invocations to the spirit of the waters. The use of the vegetal coatings on such jars suggests that the coating on earthenware cooking pots may not be limited to a functional purpose but may have ritual meaning as well.

According to several different papers presented at the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeology biennial meeting in September, the resins are obtained from various dipterocarps. In the vicinity of My Son, the tree used is known locally (in Vietnamese) as ‘dau rai’.

5. (Louise Cort, 7 January 2007) Earthenware vessels of similar elongated "bag" form were recovered in the Dai Lang cemetery, Lam Dong province, Vietnam. Two from a grave that contained Chinese and northern Vietnamese ceramics datable to 14th–18th century are illustrated in Morimoto 1996, 110, fig. 13. According to Ms. Morimoto (pers. comm., 13 October 2005), she was told by staff at the Lam Dong Provincial Museum, where the artifacts are kept, that bronze gongs and other local materials from the graves were associated with the Ma, presently the dominant ethnic group in the vicinity of the cemetery.

Morimoto Asako. 1996. "Chūbu Betonamu, Ramudon-shō Dairan iseki no tōjiki (Ceramics from the Dai Lang Site in the Central Highlands of Vietnam)." Bōeki Tōji Kenkyū [Trade Ceramics Studies] 16: 94–110 (Japanese), 129 (English summary).

6.(Louise Cort, 7 October 2008) On our research trip to the Central Highlands together with Dr. Luu Hung of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, in March 2006, we saw evidence for the former widespread production of resin-blackened earthenware pots by various ethnic groups living in the region, and it was not possible to determine with certainty the precise source of these pots. However, as the information given below indicates, S2005.196 most closely resembles (in form and decoration) pots made by Mnong Gar and Ma potters, while S2005.197–202 resemble pots made by Mnong Rlam, Ba Na, and Gia Rai (Jarai). The Mnong, Ba Na, and Ma are speakers of Austroasiatic (Mon-Khmer) languages, while the Gia Rai are speakers of an Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) language.

The Dak Lak Museum, Buon Me Thuot, exhibited black pots made by ethnic Mnong. The pots had clearly marked shoulders and elongated necks. Some vessels were plain; others bore elaborate decoration on the neck and upper shoulder made with fine incising (parallel lines or hatching) or punctate patterns made by impressing comb teeth. The tools displayed were a piece of cloth, long bamboo combs with four or five teeth, two sizes of oval bamboo rings for scraping the wall, and two sizes of smooth stones for polishing. In storage we saw another Mnong jar with elaborate hatching and dotting patterns covering the elongated sloping neck; the vessel walls were straight above a rounded base.

The Dak Lak museum also exhibited blackened pots made by Ede Bih potters living along the Serepok (Ea Krong) River along the southern border of Dak Lak province. One round pot about 30 cm high bore a band of seven grooves around the neck beneath the everted and upturned rim. The repertory also included plain round pots and hemispherical bowls, on pedestal feet or low rims, said to used as lids as well. In storage we saw a clay steamer and a long-necked round-bodied pot with two rows of incised designs (alternating lengths of straight and zigzag lines) around the neck.

In storage, a small new pot with a lid collected from an Ede Bih community (resembling S2005.202) was identified as being used to take food to the field (pot h. 10.5 cm, diam. 12.0 cm; lid h. 5.0 cm, diam. 9.0 cm).

In Dak Lak Museum storage, we were shown five earthenware pots and two earthenware bowls excavated from the tomb of Amaso, an important man in the region in the nineteenth century (AMS 8621 etc). Other grave goods includes brass and bronze bowls, cooking pots, and gongs. The clay pots bore very fine linear designs on the rim only, not on the neck.

We saw demonstrations of pottery production by elderly Ede Bih women in Buon Trap village, Krong Ana district. The pots were formed from cylinders of clay on which additional clay was coiled; the rim was shaped with a wet cloth, the walls were thinned with bamboo scrapers, and the surface was polished with smooth stones. "Thirty years ago" these potters used to send their pots to the market in Buon Trap, where they would exchange for unhusked rice.

The senior woman in a home in a nearby Ede Bih community said she had used clay pots for cooking "before 1960," but all her pots had been broken, and she was using metal cans. In a home in Buon Trap, we saw earthenware pots in use on the hearth for cooking regular rice (the pot was called go hol bic, h. 13 cm), steaming sticky rice (go hol tie, h. 19 cm) with a gourd steamer, and cooking vegetables, as well as a large pot formerly used for dyeing thread (go bal, h. 30 cm). All the pots had single rows of designs incised along the angled shoulder. They had been made twenty years earlier by the eldest woman in the household (born 1921). The pots were blackened using the liquid made from boiling bark from several varieties of forest trees. The blackening "makes the pot look beautiful" and "makes it durable." The designs had no meaning but were "to look beautiful."

In a home in a Mnong Gar village, the repertory of earthenware pots in use on the household hearth consisted of a small footed bowl (h. 12 cm), a straight-sided steamer (h. 23 cm, diam. 14 cm), a plain cooking pot with sharp shoulder, straight walls, and round base, and a long-necked pots of the same shape (h. 20 cm, diam. 20 cm) with punctate and hatched decoration on the neck beneath an everted rim (diam. 10 cm).

In the Mnong Rlam village of Bun Malieng Mot, Lak district, we were shown a variety of pots, a steamer, and a pot (h. 20 cm, diam. 20 cm, diam. mouth 10 cm) with a lid (h. 4 cm, diam. mouth 7.8 cm), called drap la, from a village home. The lid was said to be too small to use as a bowl (krul). (Bowls were the only form of ceramics for dining that we saw, and we were told that bowls of various sizes also played roles in gifting and rituals for weddings and at funerals.) The steamer for sticky rice (trom kul, h. 19 cm, diam. 21.5 cm) had a hole in the center of the narrow base, blocked with a section of loofah gourd. The steamer was set into the elongated ridged neck of a large pot (h. 21 cm, diam. 23.5 cm); the total height of the ensemble was 34 cm. A plain pot with a short everted neck, close in overall shape to S2005.197–201 (h. 20 cm), was termed gla. We were told pots used to be made in this village, but all the women who had the skill had died or moved away.

In the market in Buon Me Thuat, red earthenware pots for sale were said to have come from Binh Dinh province. Judging from the evidence of technology, the potters were probably ethnic Kinh (Viet).

In the Lam Dong Provincial Museum, Da Lat, we were told that women of the Ma and Coho ethnic groups in the province used to make earthenware but had ceased; now only the Chu Ru continued to produce it, in response to local villagers' demands or for demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The museum displayed Chu Ru earthenware, including large pots with sloping shoulders bearing conspicuous vertical polishing and constricted necks, small round plain pots, with or without lids, and footed bowls.

We saw a demonstration by Chu Ru women potters in the village of Krang Go, Don Duang district, who made pots in two halves, first forming the upper half, then inverting it on its rim and coiling on the lower half. Bamboo ring-shaped scrapers were used to thin the walls and a large seed pod was used for burnishing the damp clay. The fired pots were blackened in small bonfires made of leaves and brush.

The Lam Dong museum storage housed blackened earthenware excavated in 1983 from the Dai Lang cemetery site, including jars with carinated shoulders and dotted decoration around the neck, long-necked jars with comb-impressed decoration around the shoulder, plain round pots, and footed bowls. The datable Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Binh Dinh "Cham," and Japanese ceramics from this site span the twelfth through seventeenth centuries.

In a Ma home in Da Lat, we were shown earthenware pots of a distinctive shape, with a hemispherical lower half and elongated sloping shoulder, the shoulder and rim decorated with horizontal rows of punctate decoration. A large pot (h. 22 cm, diam. 19 cm) also bore three evenly spaced vertical punctate lines intersecting the horizontal lines. The term for vessels was gla uk (gla = clay; uk = pot).

In a Ma community in Loc Tan commune, Bao Lam district, we were shown an old earthenware pot of shape similar to S2005.196, with high angled shoulder and punctate lines defining the shoulder line, neck, and rim (h. 17 cm, diam. 15 cm, diam. mouth 11 cm). The pot was used for cooking soup or vegetables or steaming sticky rice. The design was called gao, but the person who told us that did not know the meaning of the word. The production process, as described only by an elderly woman, seemed to involve making the bottom and top of a vessel separately, then joining them. The pattern was made with the point of an all-purpose small knife. The largest pot she used to make was about 40 cm tall.

The Kom Tum Provincial Museum storehouse housed a wide-mouthed earthenware pot collected from a Xe Dang community (h. 23 cm, diam. 24 cm; registration number BTKT 2959.1921). The sloping neck was decorated with three bands of closely-spaced incised vertical lines, and groups of three clay bosses were applied at three places above a band of three horizontal lines marking the shoulder. Other Xe Dang pots in the collection bore similar decoration, featuring the small clay bosses. The vessel name was ko loe t'ne.

A woman of Ba Na ethnicity in Kon Xom Luh village, Kon Ray district, Kom Tum province, Mrs. Y Ber (age 54), makes blackened pots quite close in form to S2005.197–201. She coils and scrapes the vessel form upright on a flat base, polishes the surface with a river pebble, then (after the pot has dried overnight) pushes the base out to round it. She blackens the fired pot inside and out with a solution made from the boiled bark of the t'nung tree, "to make the pot durable" (k'jap). Her pots are undecorated. One used pot on her kitchen shelf measured h. 24 cm diam. 23 cm diam. mouth 20 cm; a second pot measured h. 21 cm, diam. 21 cm diam. mouth 17 cm. She also made small looted bowls (h. 7 cm, diam. 15 cm).

The Gia Rai provincial Museum had collected a group of seven pots from a Jarai community (heights 15–27.5 cm, registration numbers KKBD 514/7–3 S:10/7–3). The museum records did not show clearly whether the family that had owned the pots had made them. The vessel shapes were similar to the Ba Na pots and to two pots identified as Gia Rai in the Kon Tum Provincial Museum. Another large earthenware pot, undecorated, measured h. 28 cm, diam. 39 cm. (707 S:35).

field notes

Submit Comment 0 comments total

No field notes found.