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Ming Dynasty Bowl from Sea near Sapudi Island, Indonesia


The Ming Dynasty eunuch Admiral Zheng He is known in Javanese legends as Dampo Awang, and he is venerated in a temple adorned with porcelain that is visited by Buddhist and Muslim pilgrims alike, near Cirebon, on the North Coast of Java. Zheng He plays a role in the legends of the courts of Cirebon and Jepara in Java, Sumenep in Madura, Buleleng in Bali, Palembang and Lampung in Sumatra, Banjarmasin in Borneo , and also in Buton, Southeast Celebes. This Ming dynasty bowl was found by fishermen trawling the seabed for prawns, near Sapudi, off Madura in the early 1980's.

This bowl was found with around 600 similar bowls and other pottery ware, encased in coral and shells. Thierry Dureiux collected it in Kalianget, Madura, not long after it had been recovered from the sea. The location of the find is far off the traditional spice routes that the Chinese armada sailed, and the small size of the wreck suggests that this bowl might have been on the smaller, inter-island trade routes when it sank.

This bowl was thrown on a wheel and skilfully produced in mass. It was a humble sailor's bowl, but fired high enough to be used for sea travel. Archaeologists suggest that many bowls like this were loaded to be used as ballast, which if necessary could be thrown overboard.

Although these bowls were mass produced, they are all hand made and all are individually unique. The glaze is applied very sparingly, over incisions reminiscent of celadon porcelain. The simplicity of this bowl is its beauty, along with the history that it evokes.

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