Examining Cambodia Pottery Industry

Examining Cambodia’s Pottery Industry

By Dr. D. Kyle Latinis (Associate Dean of Graduate Studies) and
San You (Ph.D. Candidate)

Ph.D. candidate Mr. San You at the University of Cambodia, has recently launched a small research project to investigate various aspects of the pottery industry in Kampong Chhnang, especially in relation to socio-economics and gender. This traditional household industry is almost entirely controlled and managed by women, from production to distribution and use.

Although men are frequently seen commanding the ox-carts throughout the country, they are well-trained about business behavior and negotiation by their women ‘bosses’, who dominate production, management, and labor—from raw material acquisition to firing the pottery. Women potters even have a special high status among community members. Female dominance in household craft industries, such as pottery and textiles, is common worldwide. However, it has yet to receive the significant attention it deserves in relation to numerous policies and development goals.

The magnitude of the industry is not to be taken lightly. The household production industry and hub of distribution, based in Kampong Chhnang, effectively produces at a large-scale corporate factory level.
Mr. San You’s research interest is certainly designed to be ‘applied’ rather than ‘interesting, but trivial.’ The implications are very important; aiding the realization of the Millennium Development Goals by further promoting and helping Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and thus reducing poverty

Furthermore, it aims to identify areas for potential improvement such as enhancing efficiency, as well as designing better, more environmentally-friendly technology, production practices and distribution methods. Mr. San You has already played a significant role in re-designing the traditional cooking stoves to be more fuel efficient, reducing consumption of wood and charcoal, and thus the price for consumers as well as being beneficial for the environment  .

Careful attention must be given to improve the industry and social conditions simultaneously without disrupting traditional social norms. Of particular importance is a further in-depth understanding of gender factors. Maintaining female empowerment is essential to the industry’s success. The Kampong Chhnang potting industry, as an example to society, may be good for promoting needed resolutions concerning many gender inequity/inequality problems still inherent in other sectors of society.

Dr. D. Kyle Latinis, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Cambodia, adds a different perspective. Dr. Latinis has been working closely with Mr. San You. They jointly presented and published a paper, “Cambodian Clay-Based Commodities: Spatial, Historic, Cultural and Economic Dimensions Through Time”, at the 5th International Conference on “Southeast Asian Cultural Values: Cultural Industry” (Dec 2009), one of a series of annual conferences organized by the Asia Research Center of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, under the auspices of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, who

generously funded their participation.
Dr. Latinis, who lists heritage and archaeology among his research interests in cultural resource management, has been exploring the history of potting industries which began well over 5000 years ago in Cambodia. “If you think there’s a lot of ancient temples in Cambodia, try multiplying that estimated total by ‘ga-zillions’ and you might come close to estimating the number of ancient pots,” says Dr. Latinis.
By Cambodia’s Funan period, some 1500-2000 years ago, there were likely highly specialized potting industries producing and delivering to the whole region; possibly very similar to the Kampong Chhnang operations today, including long-distance distribution by ox-carts and boats.

The pinnacle of technological and artistic achievement in the ancient potting industry is commonly attributed to the Angkor period which witnessed the development of high fired kiln technology and the definitive highly stylized Khmer glazed ceramics. Highly skilled ceramic production, however, dates back to the Neolithic period in Cambodia, with new and interesting industries developing in the pre-Funan and Funan periods, at least 1000 years before Angkor. Analyzing the Kampong Chhnang industry, as well as changes within the industry through space and time, provides a vitally useful analogy for understanding the past. Both Dr. Latinis and Mr. San You are also interested in environment and ecology, especially the implications of large scale wood fuel consumption, past and present.
Heritage preservation and conservation are also important concerns. Pottery production in Kampong Chhnang has a history. We know little of it, except that it has been embedded in the Kampong Chhnang local culture for uncountable generations according to local producers. This is important for their cultural identity. This is also an asset that, if managed properly in the hands of local stakeholders, will possibly benefit the local economy and social esteem through promotion of heritage and cultural tourism.