DER Documentary

The Blooms Of Banjeli: Technology and Gender in African Ironmaking

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by Carlyn Saltman
with Candice Gaucher and Eugenia Herbert
color, 29 min, 1986

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The Blooms of Banjeli documents research in Banjeli, Togo on iron-smelting technology, its rituals, and the sexual prohibitions surrounding it. Including rare historical footage from the same village in 1914, it provides a unique technological record of the traditional method of preparing a furnace to smelt iron.

For centuries the high-quality iron blooms from Bassari natural draft furnaces had been a key commodity in the West African economy. But the industry declined during the early 20th century, and by the 1920s the smelters had abandoned their furnaces. Now, memory of the old ironmaking practices is fast fading. In 1985, historians Candice Gaucher and Eugenia Herbert went to the village of Banjeli. An old smelter, who had watched his father and grandfather make iron, allowed filming while he built a new furnace and prepared it to "breathe." He explains the sexual restrictions on the people and their relevance to the preparation of the furnace.

The documentary offers an interesting approach to our understanding of the relationship between conceptions of gender and technology in traditional African society. The people of Banjeli liken the furnace to a woman's body, which is 'impregnated' by the smelter. The process of smelting is compared to that of giving birth, the furnace being the womb and the iron bloom, the newborn.

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