By Walter E. A. van Beek
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Additional resources for The Forge and the Funeral: The Smith in Kapsiki/Higi Culture
Much of his work is done before an audience, either directly as in musical performances, or indirectly as when he is producing for a market, viz iron tools or brass decorative objects. His work is at least semipublic in its performance. A blacksmith’s forge is often a public place, where nonsmiths watch the proceedings, usually when they have to be there and wait for the things they have ordered, but also out of simple curiosity and fascination by a craftsman-at-work. After all, it is the smith’s forge where something “happens” in the village, where someone is at work for the general good, performing work that is difficult, important, and interesting to watch.
Kinship and lineage organization form the dominant social grid, sometimes overriding vertical distinctions. Marital relations similarly are used to bond as well as to separate. In African society the dominance of kinship is uncontested, though often more in terms of descent than of affinity. Smiths, as mentioned, often form an endogamous group yet are still considered kinsmen in the village. Various mechanisms allow for this exclusion-throughinclusion, ranging from separate but recognized smith lineages to inclusion of the smiths in regular lineages.
If artisan groups are organized in several separate groups, as in the Mande societies of West Africa where leatherworkers and bards are distinguished,3 there is always also a group of smiths (sometimes even more than one) who combine their metalwork with other functions. So we call them smiths, and “blacksmith” if they forge iron. Thus, the general picture of the African smith is of a profession that has at its core metalwork, but easily accrues other specializations like magicoreligious and healing functions.
The Forge and the Funeral: The Smith in Kapsiki/Higi Culture by Walter E. A. van Beek