Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia

Ceramics in the Central Highlands (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos)

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The mountainous region known as the Central Highlands (Tay Nguyen) in Vietnam, and also comprising Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri provinces in northeastern Cambodia and the upland region of southern Laos, was a consumer center for stoneware ceramics. No stoneware was produced locally; instead, it was acquired by trade both from the Vietnamese coast (facilitated by Cham traders with linguistic affinities) and from the interior. The village of Buon Don, Dak Lak province, on the border of Vietnam with Cambodia, was a center for trade in elephants and ceramics, especially jars. Wares brought to the region from the interior include Angkorian jars from Cambodia or Northeast Thailand, jars from the Maenam Noi kilns in Central Thailand, and jars from Lower Burma.

The social and ritual roles of jars in the societies of the Central Highlands are introduced by Dr. Luu Hung's essay in Library. An informative assemblage of stoneware from diverse sources is preserved in the Dai Lang graveyard in Lam Dong province (Bùi Chí Hoàng, Vũ Nhẩt Nguyễn, and Phạm Hữu Thọ 2000; Bui Chi Hoang 2007).

Earthenware was produced widely within highland communities by women potters. The techniques still in use do not employ the paddle-and-anvil set for finishing, but instead use rattan rings to scrape away excess clay from the hand-built forms and polish the surface. This approach shares similarities with the Cham production of earthenware along the coast in Phan Thiet and Phan Rang provinces, as does the application of plant resin after bonfire firing to produce a shiny black surface. These earthenware forms are used for cooking, storage, and other household purposes, but they also play a role in ritual offerings during community or household ceremonies (Condominas 1965, 1977).