The Shipibo Conibo
The Shipibo Conibo are a tribe of Indians who live deep in the tropical forests of the Amazon Jungle Region of Eastern Peru. They are very primitive and have had only limited contact with modern civilization. The men are typically hunters/gathers, who, even to this day, practice the ancient art of " Head Hunting"! (In 1989, while visiting Lima, we read headline news that the police had captured a Shipibo Indian with a bag of trophy heads!)
It is traditional that only the women make pottery. Clay, which may require a few days journey in a dugout canoe to obtain, is mixed with ashes from the bark of local trees and ground up fragments of broken pottery. Each piece is individually hand crafted without the use of a potter's wheel using the coil method. The sides are made as thin as possible, resulting in pottery that is extremely light. After drying in the sun for a few days, the pottery is fired by placing it in the center of a large outdoor fire. The white base color is derived from a clay slip, and the red/black geometric design colors are derived from boiling the bark of various trees. A resin, obtained from the sap of a tree, give the appearance of a ceramic glaze. The principal decorative theme is the "Cross and Serpent" repeated in geometric form. Although the geometric pattern is characteristic and easily recognizable, it execution and design is different in each case. As these patterns are also used for decoration of the face and body during special occasions in tribal life, it is believed that they are magical-religious expressions. However, their exact meaning has not been determined.
The pottery was initially utilitarian in nature; used in every day life of the Shipibos (the smaller vessels are used for meals while the larger vases are to preserve food - they are buried in the earth; water from the Amazon River is poured around them; and the evaporation of the water keeps the contents cool). The only way to obtain money, however, and the modern items which it can buy, was thought the sale of their pottery. Thus, recently, the production of pottery has become their only commercial enterprise. To reach the market place, a long hazardous journey is required.