Jed Nykolle Harme

Potters from Bari, Sibalom, Antique, say it's the compressing technique and 'slip' made from clay of their rivers that make their traditional pots shiny and different from others.

AKLAN, Philippines Barangay Bari in Sibalom, Antique, is known for the exceptional quality and durability of its pottery. The skilled craftsmen, known as "Maninihon," use a unique technique exclusive only to Bari.

Nino Gratos, an experienced maninihon, said that just like all the potters in Bari, he used a slipping solution, known as Haraplas, to complete the final look of their pottery. It consists of fine red soil, often sourced in Lacaron, Sibalom. This will result in the distinctive rich dark red hue and shiny characteristic of Bari pottery after firing.

CENTURY-OLD TRADITION. Potters in Sibalom, Antique still practice Pagpagba, an ancient method of open-fire cooking of the pottery. They use dried rice hay, bamboo trunks, and dried wood for this process. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

Being the Gemstone Capital of the Philippines, Gratos said that Sibalom's gemstones also contribute to the overall durability of their pots. "Yung sand noon (gemstones) ang sekreto sa pampatibay sa pots namin dito. Tumitibay ang clay ng Bari dahil dyan,"

(The sand of Sibalom's gemstones is the secret of our durable pots. Gemstones strengthen the clay of Bari.)

Gratos also mentioned that he traveled to other provinces in the country, and their town still has its distinctive technique that can only be found in Sibalom. "Meron din kaming compressing technique na tinatawag, dito lang talaga yan sa Bari. Sa ngayon, wala pang fully upgraded na gumagawa non, ako at ang anak ko lang ang gumagawa noon dito,"

(We also have a ‘compressing’ technique here, only in Bari. As of now, there's no fully upgraded maker of it, only me and my son are the ones who make it.)

SHINY. Ancestral crafts of pots in Antique with its natural polish made of clay from their river. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

Gratos said that they didn't get a formal education, that's why they have lived as Manugdihon for years. "Kahit wala kaming pinag-aralan, dito kami magaling. At alam yan ng mga potters din sa iba't ibang probinsya sa Pilipinas,"

(Even if we didn't have formal education, we are good at this pottery. And potters in different provinces know that.)

They sell products such as different pots, jars, stoves, vases, and figurines, which take 15-20 days to finish, depending on the weather. "Bibilhin yan ng kapitalista dito ng 35 pesos ang isa, para sa 15 araw na paggawa. Ibebenta na nila yan ng P150 o mas mataas pa. Mababa talaga ang kuha nila sa amin kaso ganoon talaga eh,"

(The capitalists will buy one piece of stove at P35, for 15 or more days of work. They will sell it then at P150 or even higher. They really get it cheap from us, but that's just how it works here.)

He also said that quarrying has long been a problem of potters in Sibalom, as these activities made their work even harder.

"Malaki talaga ang epekto nila sa amin. Wala kaming karapatang pagbawalan sila, kukuha lang sila nang kukuha ng buhangin sa ilog. Dobleng trabaho para sa amin kasi fine sand ang kinukuha namin. Kapag kumukuha sila, nagiging madumi ang nakukuha naming buhangin. Kung saan kami kumukuha at maganda ron, wala silang pakialam, kukunan din nila yon. Kung ano ang natira, yun nalang. Lilinisan nalang namin,"

(It really takes a toll on us. We have no right to restrict them; they just keep on getting sand from the river. It's double work for us because we extract fine sand. When they gather sand, what we collect becomes dirty. They don't care if it's where we're getting from and it's good, they'll take it too. We'll take what's left, we'll just clean it.)

PASSED DOWN. Elderly potters of Bari shared their age-old pottery techniques with the Antiqueño youth. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

Joel Arevalo, 58, the President of Bari Farmers and Potters Association, said that Sibalom is blessed to have fine sand, not until it was abused by the exporters.

"Kang uwa pa kato limit sang quarry diri sa Sibalom, gaexport ang Antique sang baras sa Taiwan kag China. Ang iban nga probinsya, ja man gabuol sang baras sa amun. Gakasamad lang ang amun uja nga tulay kato kay damo gid nga trucks ang gabuol sang baras diri,"

(Before, when there's no limit in quarrying in Sibalom, Antique exported sand in Taiwan and China. Other provinces also get their sand here. Our bridge collapsed before due to flocks of trucks who get sands here.)

Arevalo said that there are lots of skilled Manugdihons in Bari, but the elders barely knew the value of their sand. What they thought before was just to survive the day and make ends meet by making pottery. “Uwa man sanda kamaan bay sang manggad sa andang suba, maw ran nga wa gid sanda kasayod kung man-o it nami ang baras ujan.”

(Our ancestors don’t know how precious their river is, that’s why they did not realize the quality of their sands.)

Meanwhile, Antiqueño youth Javie Barcinal said that the province of Antique has already provided pottery facilities for local artists. It is located in the University of Antique, a kilometer away from the Bari community.

"I believe that this allows not only contemporary artists to flourish but also community artists like our own maninihons, whose art stems from our ancestors. Their wisdom is more organic, and it is crucial to preserve it. Pottery serves as both a way of life and a livelihood for them." Barcinal said.