Pottery is the exclusive domain of the women of the ingkyagu caste, and its development in the 20th century is one of the most fascinating stories of Margi social evolution.
In 1959 it was a finely honed craft; the quality of the pots was excellent, and their sale provided a reliable though modest cash income. (The income, incidentally, belonged to the potters alone; not their husbands.) A woman would produce perhaps twenty or thirty pots which she would sell in a local market, and usually only one potter would produce in any given week. Occasionally, however, I would meet an itinerant entrepreneur, who would buy as many as 20 pots, load them on a donkey, and walk more than 100 miles to Maiduguri and sell them.
Then, in the 1960s, Papka Wuri, a mbilim who was one of my early informants but who, alas, was dead by 1973, had a brilliant idea; he "special ordered" a larger number of pots and shipped them to Maiduguri by truck. This practice proved extremely successful, and the production of pots rapidly increased. Others entered the trade, and soon one could see stacks of pots, bound in cornstalk racks, at terminals along the road where they were picked up by trucks that were chartered exclusively for the pottery trade. The income so provided was significant; a fact which substantially altered the position of ingkyagu women.
(A) These are the tools of the potter; the mold (which often serves also as a stool), two pestles, and a cord used to decorate the pot. (B) Here a potter has taken a lump of clay and begun to shape it into a sphere by beating it with the pestle on the concaved mold. After the green pots are dried they are stacked in a low pit, covered with wood and grass (C) and fired (D). The fired pots are stored at points along the road (E) and finally loaded into trucks bound for Maiduguri (F), where they are sold in that large market and transshipped to other markets in Nigeria.
The consequences of the changes in pottery production and distribution were far more than economic; they were revolutionary. The interaction between the Margi middlemen and the female ingkyagu inevitably took on a social familiarity, and in the late 1960s or early 70s the first Margi middleman married a female ingkyagu, an act that would have heretofore been unthinkable. By my field trip in 1981 there were at least five men married to female ingkyagu, and by 1987 the marriages were so common that they were not counted. I wish to stress that these were NOT marriages of exploitation wherein a merchant married a producer to obtain control of her output. The marriages were the result of normal human interaction and as normal as any other Margi marriage. Furthermore, it should be noted that in every case, the potter continued to sell her pots to her husband or to any other middleman if she chose.