BHAKTAPUR, (AP): For generations, the residents of the ancient Nepali town of Thimi supplied the rest of the Himalayan country with everything from tiny clay lamps used in temples to massive grain storage jars.
Locals still mix clay and throw it on potters’ wheels, then leave pots to dry and harden in the sun.
But not for long.
As more young people leave town for better paying jobs in other parts of Nepal or abroad, fewer families have to eke out an income from the relatively low-returns business of clay pottery.
For almost 50 years, Ratna Bahadur Prajapati made clay pots and sold them in the nearby market. That was the trade of his ancestors. The potters of Thimi are all Prajapatis, a Hindu caste group.
“It’s difficult to earn a living through pottery nowadays. It requires hard work, but you no longer earn enough for survival,” the 63-year-old said.
Until a decade ago, Prajapati supported a family of seven through his traditional trade. He has two sons working in Australia and Japan and no longer needs to put in long hours for little money.
“The money my two sons send home from abroad is enough for survival,” he said.
Remittances from abroad are a major source of income for Nepal. According government statistics, remittance inflows amount to 30 percent of the country’s economy.
Of the nearly 2,000 Prajapati families in town, less than 300 families now depend on clay pottery for a living.
In the past, Prajapati potters would travel across the country to sell their wares. That practice has already died out as more durable material replaced clay pots.
“Handmade clay pots could not compete with similar industrial products of plastic and metals in the market,” said Pursottam Locahn Shrestha, a historian teaching at a local college.
Locals say a potter can earn 20,000 Nepali rupees ($200) a month, but that doesn’t match up with what young people from the town can make in other jobs abroad and in bigger cities.
What has kept the tradition alive, for now, is the flow of tourists who buy artistic clay pots as souvenirs, and also because clay pots are still used in certain Hindu and Buddhist rituals.
“Times have changed, new products have flooded the market, and people from potter caste love other lucrative professions. I fear that the tradition will fade away,” said Dil Krishna Prajapati.
His sons never took to the trade.
“Nobody in the family from the next generation will be interested in this business. I am still in this profession because I don’t have other options now,” he said.