29 minutes Colour 1987
Film maker: Carolyn Saltman
Historians: Candice Goucher and Eugenia Herbert
The film-maker and two historians went to the village of Banjeli in Togo in 1985 to try to recreate on film the traditional iron smelting techniques of the area. The present population no longer uses these techniques, but an old man who had watched both his father and grandfather smelt iron, allowed the group to film him and ask questions as he tried to recreate for them the entire smelting process, complete with all the ritual. The result is a fascinating insight into the society as a whole through the vehicle of a traditional technology.
The influence of the historians is strong and the film makes use of rare historical footage of the same village filmed in 1914. As the commentary and footage describe, the iron blooms from Bassari natural draught furnaces were a key commodity in the traditional West African economy. The tradition has declined in the 20th century and now the knowledge is being lost. This film gives a unique opportunity for viewers to understand the importance of such an economy for social relations, in this case particularly those relating to gender roles. During the reconstruction of the smelting, the old smelter describes the restrictions and definitions of gender roles that ensured a safe and successful smelt.
This film is recommended for courses at university level in anthropology, history, African studies, gender studies, and for courses that include non-Western technology and development. The RAI Film Library includes another film about African iron-smelting, The Iron Smelters of Eremi (see page 29 of Volume I of this catalogue). Catalogue number (VHS): RA/VHS180.
P. De Barros, 1986. `Bassar: A Quantified, Chronologically Controlled Regional Approach to a Traditional Iron Production Centre in West Africa'. Africa, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 148-73.
C.L. Goucher, 1981. `Iron is Iron `til it is Rust: Trade and Ecology in the Decline of West African Iron-smelting'. Journal of African History, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 179-89.
R. Haaland and P. Shinnie (eds.), 1985. African Iron Working: Ancient and Traditional. Norwegian University Press, Oslo.
E.W. Herbert and C.L. Goucher, 1987. Resource Guide for `The Blooms of Banjeli: Technology and Gender in West African Ironmaking'. Documentary Educational Resources, Watertown. [Copies available from the film-maker Carlyn Saltman, Pixies Holt, Cherry Drive, Forty Green, Beaconsfield, Bucks. HP9 1XP.]
F.J. Kense, 1983. Traditional African Iron Working. University of Calgary, Calgary.
P. McNaughton, 1989. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 91, pp. 1092-94.
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