An explanation of Burmese Martabans


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Myanmar has a thousand year-old tradition of creating pottery, which is still used in most households. A common style is the giant Martaban jar, standing about 130cm high with a narrow foot and mouth. These are glazed inside and on the upper area of the pot on the outside. The bottom of the pot is left unglazed so that the jar keeps cool on the interior. By burying the foot in the ground, the temperature is kept low.

The term Martaban dates back to the 14th Century, because sailors used to buy these jars at the coastal town of Mote Ta Ma on the South East Asian trade route between the Middle East and the Orient.


The jars were for storing water and food. Farmers and peasants use them as water catchment pots to hold rainwater from roofs. Water is also carried from streams and rivers and then stored in the jars. Oil, pickles, salt, fish paste, and rice are also stored in them.
Clay for making the jars and other wares is gathered from the river, and other sources.
Martaban jars are made by coiling long sausages of clay from a base up. The coils are pressed together and scraped smooth. This is either done on a wheel or by moving around the pot.


The wheel is a circular hardwood base about 5cm thick at the base and almost a meter in diameter at the top.


Martabans are wood-fired in a brick kiln for about five days. The process of heating the kiln, firing the wares, and then cooling the kiln enough to remove the pieces without causing them to break due the change in temperature takes about 22 days.


The wood is usually teak off-cuts, and is brought to the kiln by barge and by ox-cart. Pots are transported from the potteries with the same technologies. Larger ones can be lashed together to form rafts and floated down the river. They are sold at trade fairs and pagoda festivals, as well as for export or direct to the local populace.


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