Family Magazine

In Search of Pottery, We Find a Fort

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

At the Siwa Lima museum in Ambon, our docent showed us old pottery that was still made at Ouw village at the southeastern corner of Sapaura island. We don’t often hang our destination choices on much information, so that was enough to peg Pulau Saparua for the next stop. Besides, we need to break up our trip to the Banda Islands, and waiting there for gentler conditions to make the overnight run sounds perfect.
Our last night in Ambon was sleepless: we moved to the outer harbor, Amahusu, where the rally boats congregate in August. I don’t know how they tolerate it: rolly anchorage, no bemos, just one hotel/restaurant ashore. Chalk up another tick against going with the crowd. We had a motorboat ride going to Ouw in the morning. Unfortunately, we haven’t don’t a lot of sailing happening in Indonesia… winds rarely crack 10 kts. But there was plenty of garbage in the water to watch floating by.
No wind, but plenty of trash Scant wind ripples but lots of trash, our typical Indonesian water view
It was a relief to find a large anchorage area with depths of 20-30’ just off the village- no more of the crazy depths from Papua!
Walking ashore and asking around, it was pretty easy to find a potter- literally, the first place we stuck our heads in for directions turned out to be making pottery in the back. It’s neat to see that pieces just like those we’d seen in the museum were still very much in modern day production- and apparently using techniques that haven’t changed for centuries.
Ouw village traditions shaping clay bowls is an entirely manual process
Besides the museum pieces, we’d seen these bowls used for Pepeda (for serving gooey sago mush) and evidence of them in the market (where rectangular sago bricks to dunk in your coffee are fired in clay baking dishes).
The home that welcomed us to see pottery work in progress was built against some old ruins, sharing an exterior wall with a crumbling structure of limestone/coral brick. I thought it was a little strange that nobody knew the history. Was it 200 years old, or 400? Was it Portuguese or Dutch, or even English? A standard-issue, rotted out government sign in front identified it as “Benteng (Fort) Ouw” and bade visitors not to damage the creeper-covered walls, but offered no clues to the history.
Benting Ouw The old fort at Ouw village
Back on Totem, it was “sweaty hour”.  Every afternoon we seem to reach a point where if we don’t hose down or jump in the water, we’ll succumb to heatstroke. It’s not hard to be enticed into the pretty water. Underneath is a different story. No pretty fish, no healthy corals, just the gray rubble of blasted reef. Dynamite fishing is illegal, but still practiced.  A few straggling soft corals grow, but they just serve as a counterpoint to set off the wasteland of the rest of the bay. It meant our anchorage wasn’t great, either, gravel not being the best holding. With stronger winds forecast, we decided to move farther inside Saparua’s harbor.

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