Lakbay Norte 6: Shaping a Heritage in the Pottery Town of Iguig | Cagayan

Hundreds of years after what is believed to be the earliest industry that thrived in this part of Cagayan province, the town of Iguig is picking up where its ancestral settlers left off. By continuously shaping a heritage through the delicate hands of its artisan townsfolk; the soft natural rock material called clay – finds a home and purpose here.

A local artist demonstrates his expertise in pottery making. Photo courtesy of Martin San Diego / North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)
“I thought clay must feel happy in the good potter’s hand” wrote Janet Fitch in her book White Oleander. It certainly does, in the capable hands of the locals residing in the more than sixty households of Iguig. Skillful hands that keep the molding going in order to turn this Earth-material into solid and creative ceramic products.

One Town-One Product

It is said that in the early 1970’s, a team of local and foreign archaeologists uncovered fragments of fossilized ornaments and clay pots around various locations in the town of Iguig. Some believe these artifacts prove the existence of an ancient pottery industry that flourished hundreds or even a thousand years ago.

Today, Iguig has earned the tourism slogan of “pottery center of Cagayan”, as it ushers pottery making as the municipality’s representation of its One Town One Product (OTOP) creation.

Barangay Atulu – Home of the Itawis People

After alighting from our Lakbay Norte bus, we walked through rows of small unpainted houses built from hollow blocks and wood. As we edged inside the narrow passageways, we were greeted by men and women seated in front of their homes with their hands busy caressing slabs of clay.

A woman pottery maker shows Levy how to properly mold a slab of clay. Photo courtesy of Martin San Diego / North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)
“More than 60 households here are engaged in the pottery making” the town’s Barangay Captain told us. “Baranggay Atulu is mostly populated by the indigenous Itawis people” he adds.

We stopped to watch a few local artisans go on with their work. In a few rapid movements, one man was able to mold a lump of clay and in a calculated hand motion, he was able to smoothen it into a shape of a large chocolate bar. “This can be used for wall furnishing – like a brick one of the locals told us in Tagalog.

A child watches the probing visitors as her father concentrates on casting a small pottery item 
It appears that every local artist working in their respective homes specialize on a certain type of pottery product. At the adjacent house, we watched a father casting a chunk of clay and turning it into small flower pots, as his little child stands just outside their humble abode’s door and eyes us keenly in return.

The thriving pottery industry of Iguig is evidently on display along the short stretch of highway, where stores selling clay kitchenware, pots and even terra-cotta figures are lined up.

Crafty hands in action
Seeing all the clay products stacked up neatly made me wonder why people are still crazy over plastic and steel wares – especially those made from China, when these ceramic produces fashioned from the skillful hands and ingenious minds of the local craft workers of Iguig, appear more elegant and durable.

As we wrap-up our morning’s exploration around Iguig, I have come to appreciate the enduring heritage of the town – in the form of pottery making, that was handed down from many centuries to the present generation.

Pottery stores lined up along the road side of the highway in Iguig, Cagayan. Photo courtesy of Martin San Diego / North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)
Who would have thought that in this small hidden town, a cultural industry believed to have first existed hundreds of years ago, still exists and prospers under the radar of most travelers and lovers of all things ceramic?

I am so glad to have learned about the existence of Iguig’s pottery industry and how it also wove a whole community together.                                

This trip to the town of Iguig, Cagayan was made possible through Lakbay Norte 6, a media familiarization trip held from January 30 to February 3, 2017, and organized by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB), a non-stock, non-profit organization spearheaded by the Manila North Tollways Corporation, builder and concessionaire of the North Luzon Expressway.