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Beyond décor: The tenacity of mineral-rich clay



A traditional and distinctively healthy alternative to glass, steel, and plastics — the use of earthenware has been practiced through the centuries as a maneuver for a grand lifestyle and for people to remain in sync with nature.

With health benefits ranging from curing acidity, boosting metabolism, leveling testosterone, maintaining pH balance and finally adding a natural flavour to life, the use of items made from clay is making its way back to every home.

A day spent at the potters’ den in Bahla highlights this exceptional art and the never ending desire to create a magic for every buyer. The land of Bahla after all offers the most desired potter’s clay that can be turned into different awe-inspiring home items.

The process itself is a mesmerizing presentation — from digging out the clay to trampling them for a smoother texture before molding them on the spinning wheel with the potter’s magic fingers doing their tricks to create cool and wonderful items.

An ancient craft dating back to two million years, especially in the region of Al Dakhiliya governorate, pottery as a concept, offers a healthy lifestyle and also makes one embrace the art with all its richness.

The current trend of earthenware is that they are being used as decorative pieces. They can take the form of an intricately designed lampshade or ornate pots for plants but their benefits in our daily life goes beyond the concept of home décor.

“Still a very common product among the villagers of Oman, the use of earthenware is not only limited to decorations, but they are highly used for important purposes like storage,” said Khalid Alsafi Al Haribi, Deputy CEO for operations, The Public Athuority for Small and Medium Enterprise - Riyada.

“Clay keeps items, such as water, cool in the summer, which is very convenient for use. Home tools made of clay are very useful with minimum risk to the health and they also protect itemsfrom the weather,” he added.

The mineral-rich brown clay from the wadi bed and the red clay from the mountains of Bahla, packs a nutritional punch. They are beneficial in avoiding health hazards and because using them allows both moisture and heat to circulate uniformly which makes slow cooking even more tastier, they are a must-have for rich delicacies due to their porous nature.

The rich minerals — kaolinite, illite, and montmorillonite — present in clay do wonders with regular use. They are proven to help expel heavy metal toxin from body, boost skin health, oxygenate the body, and also help improve gum and dental health.

The use of clay pots is said to help maintain pH balance.

“The use of clay pots or cookware improves and boost metabolism as well as maintains a healthy testosterone level in the body,” said Dr Dhanya Umanath of an Ayurvedic clinic in Muscat.

“The clay water pot is alkaline in nature and helps curb acidity of water. It is also helpful in neutralizing the acidic quality of food cooked in it which provides a balanced pH balance and relieves gastronomic pains,” she added.

Dr Umanath also recommended, “Use of clay items are most beneficial during this holy month of Ramadhan, as fasting in some aggravates acidity problem and a touch of clay is a marvel for the body, mind and soul.”

Although many think that earthenware household items have overstayed their welcome in the society especially as storage vessels, their earthy essence are still of great significance in the advent of modern cookware innovations.

The most common “Jihal”, hung on tree branches and used for storing water is well known to keep water cool, projecting the age old tradition of pottery. On most shops, they remain to be a popular acquisition.

“People mainly come with high demands for ‘Khuroos’ pot used to store grains and dates, ‘Jihal’ for water, and also even ‘Majmar’, the traditional frankincense clay burner,” said Dr Said Al Adawi, Director General of Handicraft Centre in Muscat and Bahla.

“Nowadays, water pots with fitted taps are highly in demand. The [earthen] cookware too are gaining popularity as people are becoming more and more health conscious,” he added.

Considered to be the most illustrious among the Sultanate’s cottage industry, the potters of Bahla have given the small scale industry a leap through each passing year. The pottery items also transcend acquisition from the locals and residents but are also enjoying purchase from people from across the borders.

“All around the world, there is a drive for optimising the use of natural resources excavated from around us. This includes sustainable products such as those made of clay. I strongly support exploring ways of presenting our traditional crafts with a modern touch not only for the local and regional markets but also for international markets,” Khalid Alsafi Al Haribi of Riyada said.

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