HomeCultureAt the artisanal complex of Oulja, tradition hardly opens up to modernity

At the artisanal complex of Oulja, tradition hardly opens up to modernity

Salé, we are at the artisanal complex of Oulja, also called “the city of potters and basket makers”. In Morocco, this place remains one of the great references in terms of craftsmanship, and brings together a hundred maallems (professionals).

The latter, who have become accustomed to creating their works in difficult conditions, marked by insufficient safety and prevention standards, received, last July, the first batch of gas ovens handed over by the Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy. How are they using this gift today? we went to the heart of this complex to answer them. Reportage.

Tagines, jugs, jars, taârija, plates, bowls, ashtrays, enamelled dishes… You can find a bit of everything in this pottery paradise in the region of Rabat-Salé-Kénitra. Here, around a hundred artisans who are commonly called “the maallems” compete on a daily basis. Producing the same products, they must each demonstrate talent. In front of the shop windows, it is difficult to imagine the intense work behind the walls. It is only once these last crossed that one discovers a dark universe made of earth and fire. At the back of the Maallem Mustapha store, is the large workshop, the place where clay is transformed by the magic of the potters. Clay takes shapes as diverse as they are infinite. Craftsmen start by drying it, then crushing it. Then, the material is sprayed and soaked in water before moving on to the smoothing step. It is then cut into strips and then rolled. The material is finally ready to be modeled.

Maâllem Mustapha explains that it is after the modeling stage that comes the cooking stage, the most complicated of the whole process. This craftsman is one of the eight lucky maallems who benefited from the first batch of gas ovens handed over by the Ministry of Tourism, except that he is not very optimistic about the idea of ​​using them. Moreover, he placed it in the middle of his workshop, keeping his traditional oven operational for any cooking. “We received them a few months ago, and in truth, I prefer to continue working with my traditional oven for the moment. It’s undoubtedly dangerous and above all bad for the environment, but that’s how we learned to work. It will take a long time for us to learn how to do it with a gas oven ”, he confides to us, not ignoring the drawbacks of traditional ovens.

Ahmed, a worker for Maallem Mustapha, does not seem to share the opinion of his boss. For him, the gas oven must be operational as soon as possible. “We were relieved when we received this oven that we had been waiting for for years. There, we try to convince the maallem to give us the green light to use it, ”he says, shovel in hand, pushing tree branches into the brazier of the traditional oven. These small branches are, for him, the cleanest material that can be used in traditional cooking. “We use different materials for combustion: tires, cardboard boxes, and sometimes even hospital waste. It may sound shocking to you, but that’s how it is! ”Continues Ahmed.

In a store not far from that of maallem Mustapha, is that of maallem Rachid. He too has benefited from a gas oven, and unlike his colleague, he uses it. “It’s a bit complicated for me after so many years of using my traditional oven,” he admits, pointing to his old oven. “My health has deteriorated over the years. I have devoted all my life to pottery, I have lived on my know-how for 38 years already. If I have benefited from this oven, why would I deprive myself of it. Plus, it’s bigger, so I can put a lot more pieces in it at the same time, ”he says.

Work remains to be done

Met on site, Driss Sentissi, director of the Oulja craft complex, told us that the issue of gas ovens has been a topical issue for years. “This history of gas ovens does not date from today, but from several years. What was initially planned concerned the financial contribution of beneficiaries with a rate of 20%. This is no longer the case today. The craftsmen received these ovens free of charge, but, it must be said that others bought this oven with their own means, believing that it is a healthier and more practical way of working ”, explains us. -he.

For this director, there is work to be done now. “Now that they have received these ovens, we are in the process of making them understand that they must be used by making them aware of the nuisance of polluting materials used in traditional cooking at the level of the complex. The smoke and thick ash emissions are toxic, due to the combustion of tires and the base resin for enamelling used in culinary pottery, ”he says.

There is still a long way to go to adopt the new ovens. The first batch was handed over to the potters of the Oulja craft complex last July as part of the environmental upgrade of the pottery sector. Except that using this new tool doesn’t seem like an easy task for everyone. Among the eight beneficiaries of the first batch of gas ovens, a few rare craftsmen use it. A matter of time? The days to come will tell us.



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