I came across sets of beautifully crafted enamelware online and was gripped with nostalgia, the certain kind that makes you crave the replacement of half the set of crockery in your kitchen. Growing up, they were my last choice of dishes and if at all I felt anything for them, it was an annoyance towards the noise they made when dropped against hard surfaces or towards the fact that unlike well-behaved plastic bowls that float in a drum of water, they made me dip my arms in water, way up to my shoulder in a bid to rescue one. It’s amazing how time can change feelings.
Enamelware made its way into Nigeria from Europe in the early 1900s in a time when local dinnerware were chiefly works of pottery. In the 1950s, pottery lost its chance to enamelware, owing to increased influx, durability –they do not break like pottery and thus last longer1, and the variety of colourful patterns they came in. From the 1960s, companies such as Nigerian Enamelware Plc, West Africa Household Utilities Manufacturing Company, Eastern Enamelware Factory Ltd, Northern Enamel Ltd, and others across Nigeria were incorporated and began to produce enamelware locally.
In the 21st century Nigeria, I doubt if enamelware is still as common in our homes as they once were. Changing times are announced by materials which take the place of others. Trays, mugs, plates and bowls which were once base metal pieces coated with enamel and which came in colourful illustrations of fish, flowers, naira notes and national emblems on them or in speckled form, now give way to those made of plastic, aluminium, ceramic and glass in modern homes. But we wouldn’t be so fast to lose them; though they may not be referred to as must-haves, enamelware lingers as domestic pieces of functional art, as keepsakes which remind us of where we come from.
1. Igbo Women and Economic Transformation in Southeastern Nigeria, 1900-1960 by Gloria Chuku pp 131-2.