Manipur’s Black Pottery Is All About Rustic Flavours Of Slow Cooking
Image Credit: Instagram/@yong.skitchen

You have the connoisseurs of heirloom recipes, and then there are those who meditate on the earthy flavours of their grandmother’s slow-cooking secrets. Be it an adukkala in Kerala or a pakghor in Assam, a quick conversation with the matriarchs of conventional households will unfold stories of how they depend on rustic cookware for the taste of what we describe as ‘homely food’. Speaking of pots and utensils used in the kitchen, clay cookware has always been believed to render a nuanced taste and tang. Be it rice, meat, lentils or seasonal greens, food cooked in earthen vessels have a robustness you cannot ignore.        

If you too are among those who think that pottery is more than just a folk art form, you must have used or at least heard of Manipur’s black pottery. Also known as Longpi pottery, this less-talked-about but unique craft traces its roots to a small village in the state’s Ukhrul district. Artisans in this part of the country don’t use the pottery wheel. Instead, a coiled technique is employed, in which a mixture of clay and weathered rock is rolled as coils and then moulded in an array of beautiful earthenware including kettles, cups, mugs, bowls, trays, cooking pots and even decorative pieces. Interestingly, black pottery is practised more by members of a Naga tribe called Tangkhul.

Often used for cooking and storing food, black pottery cookware requires less oil, while giving out extra minerals to the dish as well as preserving its nutritional values. A toxin-free, healthy option for your kitchen, clay pots also convert acidic foods into alkaline, making them easier to digest. Most people buy Longpi cookware because of their distinctive black colour and amazing shapes. But it is important to mention that unlike many other clay items, Longpi pots can withstand high temperatures and so can be used for direct cooking over gas stove, firewood and even microwave. Although made of clay, food cooked in Longpi pots remains hot for a long period of time. Despite being delicate, these make perfect home utility products as they can add a rich, earthy flavour and aroma to your dishes. 

The specialty of Longpi pottery is the exquisite technique behind it. The raw materials for the base mixture include stone dust, known as hum loong, and a special variety of clay, called humnali. The potters use mortars, called hamleikhong, to reduce serpentinite, a kind of black rock, to powder. Used in a ratio of 3:2, rock dust and clay are mixed with water to make the dough, which is then flattened out on a wooden plate and designed with hands. In the next stage, the objects are incised using bamboo blades and their surface polished with a smooth stone to give a more professional finish. These are then placed in the kiln for 5-9 hours at 900 degree centigrade and covered with a locally available leaf, called chiron na, which adds a natural black shade to the artefacts. It is also used to polish the final product, lending a fine lustre.

In Manipur, black pottery is traditionally known as Longpi ham. Both men and women are engaged in this rural craft. It is said that previously only the rich and noble families of Manipur could afford to own black pottery wares, which were often used during weddings, feast and other such events.

As more and more people take interest in transforming Indian kitchens with traditional cookware, Longpi utensils can serve as an eco-friendly and healthy option, not forgetting the robust taste of food they impart.