Faculty Publications


Transforming clay: Gamo caste, gender, and pottery of Southwestern Ethiopia.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

John Arthur

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Issued

January 2013

Date Available

October 2014




Among the Gamo of southwestern Ethiopia, a select group of women continue to make pottery offering an opportunity to study how potters learn and practice their craft within a caste structure. Gamo potters are predominately women, husbands and other male family members occasionally may help with certain aspects of pottery production and distribution. The potter's social standing in Gamo society determines that they have limited farmland, which forces potters to work as full-time craft specialists. Since Gamo society is virilocal, women potters will typically learn their craft in their natal community but then will have to relearn the complex production and distribution sequences once they move to their husband's community. A potter will also encounter a new set of economic conditions at her husband's house that may influence the degree to which family members are dependent upon her skill. A potter's skill can be tested if resources are not available, such as proper clays, room to store and dry her pots, and finding materials for firing. Thus, she has to use her skill to transform the clays into pots that will be economically viable for her family. Furthermore, she will need to forge new relationships with non-potter community members in order for her to trade her pots for money or food. This larger interplay between gender and caste is countered by the individual potter's skill and how potters manage their limited resources as Gamo artisans.


Abstract only. Full-text article is available through licensed access provided by the publisher. Published in African Study Monographs. Supplementary issue, 47, 5-24. http://hdl.handle.net/2433/173543. The full-text of the article may be accessed through the link provided.




Kyoto University. The Center for African Area Studies