The ceramic remains found in the different archaeological sites on La Palma testify to their difference from ceramics found on the other islands of the Canary archipelago. Their great beauty and ornamental richness speak of a developed and perfectionist civilization, whose techniques for moulding clay are still preserved today. The vessels found display at least three different types of ceramics: a smooth one, without any decoration, but with beautiful very elegant shapes; an intermediate one, with grooved incisions of vertical, or vertical and horizontal straight lines; and a third, with profuse, grooved ornamentation, based on circles, spirals, dots and lines.

Human activity makes its mark on the environment, using it according to its possibilities and needs. A clear example of this is folk ceramics, which in La Palma was strongly established in the countryside, producing vessels for daily use; hence, sometimes what was gained in functionality was lost in aesthetics. For this they used masapé, a fine, sticky clay, with a different composition from the clay regions of the island, such as Tijarafe, Puntagorda, Barlovento and Garafía.

A fundamental and peculiar piece of Palmeran pottery was the conical mould that was used to make the confectionery known as rapaduras, for which the island is famous.

Today the trade is shared by men and women, although traditionally only female hands were dedicated to it. Another characteristic of Palmeran ceramics, as is the case with traditional pottery throughout the Canary Islands, is the absence of a wheel to throw the pieces.

Reproduction of aboriginal pieces

The aboriginal ceramics of La Palma are undoubtedly the finest and most elaborate in the Canary Islands. The round-bottomed bowls, with straight or rounded walls, are adorned with incisions that form drawings of great beauty and harmony. These reflect on the Benahorita who made them, a true artist with a creative spirit.

The raw material is clay brought from Puntagorda, Garafía and Tijarafe, kneaded with water and sand. Once the mixture is ready the coil method is used. This consists of building up the piece by rolling long cylinders and joining them together. Then the item is left to air-dry for a day or two, before being scraped to give it the final shape then polished with water and a pebble. Subsequently, the bowl is left to dry, until it acquires the texture of leather, and then decorated by means of incisions and polished with a very fine pebble, after smearing it with grease or, currently and for convenience, with oil. When the piece dries, it is placed in the kiln for firing, until it reaches a temperature of 700 degrees centigrade. Its characteristic black colour is achieved by reduction, lowering the oxygen supply to the furnace, which releases carbon and carbon oxide, producing lots of smoke.

In black pottery, pre-Hispanic techniques are reproduced without a wheel, with grooves cut in the form of spirals, circles, semicircles and intersecting lines; only the exterior bottom of the bowl (ganigo) remains, in some cases, undecorated.

Popular Earthenware

The clay is cleaned, water is added and mixed with the sand, so that it does not crack, and then it is mixed and kneaded until creating a ball of clay.

The grain toaster, the brazier, the water urn, the cauldron, the basin, the bowl or the casserole that is created with the clay should be left to dry in the shade for a week, and then polished with water and a pebble from the sea. Subsequently, it is cooked directly with fire rather than a kiln.

Text: © “Guía de artesanía La Palma”. Myriam Cabrera, María Victoria Hernández y Vicente Blanco