Are you looking for a memorable day trip out of Kigali? A visit to the Gatagara Cooperative offers the perfect hands-on pottery experience combined with meaningful learning.
Situated between Ruhango and Nyanza, Gatagara is a 90 minutes drive from Rwanda’s capital city. Once at the cooperative, you will learn all that there is to know about the art of traditional pottery making, including how and where the artisans work, and you will, if you wish to do so, try your hands at creating your own piece.
When I travelled to Gatagara, I tried making a small vase, which happened to be much harder to make than I thought it would be, but also very enjoyable! When you are done working with the clay, it needs a couple of days to dry. It is then baked in the oven. Once baked, a layer of paint is added and it is baked again.
Unfortunately, since it is a lengthy process, travellers who are often short on time do not get to take part to the whole process but working the clay is the most fascinating part anyway. It is interesting to note that the clay itself can take up to two years to make!
What I found incredible was to watch the technique which has remained largely unchanged since the late 1970’s when the Gatagara Cooperative was first established. The only difference today is in terms of colouring and finishing.
I also very much liked the fact that the clay that they use is locally made with resources they find in their surroundings, both in the swamps and on the hills. Hues are mainly Belgian imports however.
The pottery cooperative is made up of 12 artisans and one accountant. Louis, one of the eldest, has been there since the beginning. Since pottery is the Batwa’s main occupation, a minority group constituting less than 1% of Rwanda’s population, and Louis is a Batwa, the skills of pottery-making have been transmitted to him by his family and community since his young age. Today, he has become a teacher, sharing his skills and expertise to fellow members in his community who are interested in the art.
As the home of Rwanda’s original potters, Gatagara is famous for its stunning pottery produced by local artisans using the traditional pottery technique of the Batwa while adding a modern touch in the range of products, colouring and finishing.
You can also combine a visit to Gatagara with a visit to Nyanza, the capital of the Kingdom of Rwanda before the country gained its independence in 1962. In Nyanza, travellers can visit the national art gallery and the grounds of the beautiful King’s Palace, home to a museum and the stunning Rwandan royal cattle; the Inyambo!
By Sarine Arslanian