Abolaban’s skills in art of pottery draw huge crowd at Souk Okaz


By Hassan Cheruppa

Saudi Gazette

It takes only a few minutes for Yusef Abolaban from Madinah to make several potteries in different shapes and sizes with his incredible speed and superb craftsmanship. In the pavilion of Souk Okaz in Taif, Abolaban draws huge number of visitors who are amazed to watch his extraordinary skills at the pottery wheel with proficient use of hands and fingers.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Abolaban said that he is demonstrating his talent and skills in pottery making for the 10th consecutive year at Souk Okaz. He has exhibited earthenware products in the National Festival of Heritage and Culture Festival in Janadriyah, near Riyadh in all the 33 years of its history. The trade of ceramics is older than that of the ancient Souk Okaz that dates back to the sixth century in the pre-Islamic period. With the recreation of the souk after a gap of 1,300 years in 2007 under the visionary leadership of Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, this ancient trade draws attraction of large number of visitors in the souk. In Saudi Arabia, there are many families who are popular as potters and the trade continued flourishing in different parts of the Kingdom, including Al-Ahsa and Najran, since more than 1,500 years ago.

At the pavilion, Saudi Gazette saw Abolaban mesmerizing visitors with making of three different sizes of utensils within a few minutes, using adept movement of hands and fingers on the potter’s wheel. In the beginning, he centers a roll of clay on the wheel head, with allowing the clay whirling between his hands. It begins to assume a jug-like shape as he pushes his left hand down into the center of the pliable clay while his right hand raises and supports the outside wall. Extreme steadiness of hands and arms is applied while forming the narrow neck for the jug by squeezing his hands together, resulting the making of different sizes of potteries one after another.

Abolaban said that his family earning a living through making and selling potteries after inheriting it from forefathers. “Our family is engaged in this trade since about 300 years when Hassan Abolaban, who belongs to the chain of forefathers, took this as his trade. We produce and market around 10,000 earthenware items in a month, and there are 17 workers at our factory in Madinah, in addition to a factory in Makkah, which is supervised by my uncle,” he said.

“There are large numbers of customers who frequent Abolaban Ceramic Museum located along the airport road in Madinah. We produce various types and sizes of household items, including utensils, plates, jars, jugs, bowls, frames, fumigators, casks, pots and vases.” Abolaban is happy to say that many people prefer earthenware jugs and containers for storing drinking water thanks to their therapeutic advantages and health benefits.

According to Abolaban, the good quality clay, which is abundant in Madinah valleys, is ideal for pottery making. “We collect finest raw clay from some valleys, including Al-Aqeeq after experiencing rain fall. We mix clay with adequate quantity of water, mold it in different size and shape on the potter’s wheel and then place it in open areas for exposure of sun for some time,” he said while pointing out that there is huge demand for traditional earthenware items produced by his firm.

It is also noteworthy that Madinah is famous for many mud houses and ancient castles, including the Urwa Castle, which was named after Urwa Bin Al-Zubair, grandson of first Caliph Abu Bakr. The castle was built on a mountai close to Al-Aqeeq Valley. According to historians, the valley hosted several castles that belonged to prominent figures in the early Islamic history, including the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions such as Saeed Bin Al-Aas, Marwan Bin Al-Hakam, and Saad Bin Abi Waqas, besides the castle of Sakeena, daughter of Hussein, and farms of Abu Hurairah, famous companion and reporter of several Traditions of the Prophet (pbuh).