Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Today’s post is by Maria Jose from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are each sharing our passion and  interest in the museum and its objects.

For more about the Living Cultures Gallery at Manchester Museum, have a look at the Curator’s blog, Mancultural.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

I had this lovely Gershwin song in my mind one morning while working at the Museum.  As a soft light came in through the window, families filled the galleries – children run around excited by the objects and couples hold hands lovingly in front of millenary objects, perhaps hoping that their love too will last forever …

In the Living Cultures gallery, I took the time to look at one object that reminds me of summer in my home country – a water pot: 0.9321/246 made out of clay, from Lagos, Nigeria. It dates around 1900-1910 and came to the Manchester Museum in 1969 as part of an exchange with the Salford Museum.


Water pot (0.9321/246), Living Cultures, Manchester Museum

Its shape surprised me the first time I saw it, because in Spain we’ve got a pretty similar water pot called “botijo” that I didn’t know existed in another part of the world.


(image from:

Then I read that was introduced into Nigeria by our neighbours, the Portuguese, who extended their influence over West Africa and maintained trade relations with the area between the 15th and 17th

The botijo is a typical Spanish piece of pottery, mainly from the South and the Mediterranean area, designed to keep the water cool and fresh even in the high temperatures that can be reached in the summer. Like the Nigerian water pot, it is made out of clay – with a handle on top one or more holes to introduce the water, and one nozzle for drinking or pouring. That is the basic design, but sometimes they are decorated more elaborately, especially for the tourist market. It all depends on the artisan’s imagination or the purpose in making it. However, if you want a botijo that really does its job and keeps the water cold, it needs a porous surface, free of heavy painting.

A comparison of a decorative and a functional botijo (images from: and

The way that it works is very simple (in fact, “you are as simple as the mechanism of a botijo” is an old Spanish saying).  The stored water is filtered through the pores of the clay and in contact with the outside dry environment; it then evaporates producing a cooling.  The key for cooling is as the water evaporates, it extracts thermal energy from the water stored inside.  It’s a simple mechanism, but effective indeed.  Basically it’s the same working principle as sweating!

Twenty years ago there was a botijo in each house.  It was taken by rural workers to the burning fields in summer and by shepherds, who hung them in dusty almond trees.  Even in the cities you would see it placed in the shade ready to quench the thirst of the builders.  Nowadays this charming traditional object has been replaced by plastic bottles – although it still occupies a privileged place in some grandparents´ houses (my own grandmother´s, for instance) and has even caught some environmental groups’ attention in the challenge to reduce the use of plastic bottles.

For example, Fundación Terra, a Spanish environmental organisation, launched a campaign a few years ago to promote the use of the botijo in homes and offices, and developed a system to suspend the bojito from the ceiling for easy drinking. In addition, they advise people to hang it above a plant so that spilled water does not get lost.


Easy to use in the office or home (Image from:

Is there another way more ecological and sustainable for drinking cold water and making  livin’ in the summertime easier?

Maria Jose Ramos Acevedo

For more information:

For more about the collections at Manchester Museum, please visit the Curators’ blogs.

Have a look at some more stories from the Living Cultures gallery by the Visitor Team:
There be dragons here …
From Shrunken Heads to Collective ConversationsFrom Shrunken Heads to Collective Conversations


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