The smithy :

 

     The smithy is a sober looking shelter consisting of a thatched roof resting on a piled up stone wall. Craftsmen like the smiths are divided into endogamous casts and live at the fringe of Dogon society. They do not marry with people outside of their community. There are two distinct casts : The Jm-na and The Irine.

 

    The Jm-na plunge their roots in a faraway past. They live mainly in the Seno-Gondo plains. They were highly skilled in extraction and smelting techniques of iron ore. Colonial times gave acces to other sources of supply and the trade of iron processing subsequently came to a halt by the late 1940s. Today remnants of old earthen furnaces can be found in many parts of the country. But who are these smiths and where do they come from? It is difficult to answer this question. However, the fact remains that Dogon smiths have been known since ancient times for their mastery. Between the 10th and 15th century, the Yatenga province already witnessed an intense metallurgical activity which has always been ascribed to the Kibse/Dogon. At the time of the Songhay and Mossi conquests, it was usual to remove smiths and other craftsmen from their home villages and settle them down elsewhere in conquered territory. Their technical know-how in manufacturing weapons and agricultural tools was vital to any power seeking control over the land. As a farming society, the Dogon of the plateau and Bandiagara escarpment lacked in craftsmen. In all logic, they turned to the smiths, established in the plains below, to learn the trade.

 

    The Irine were originally Dogon farmers who learned the trade of blacksmithing from the Jm-na. They manufacture agricultural tools. In a recent past, they used pig iron which they bought from the Jm-na. The Irine also work wood. It is among them that the great Dogon sculptors are to be found. Apart from their craftsmanship with iron and wood, smiths are accredited with healing powers. They also intervene as mediators in conflicts that arise among villagers. This is a responsibility that they have in common with the Hogon. Smiths hardly ever live in their home village. They will settle in a village with an opening for employment. The Irine often wear the patronymic surname of their village of adoption. It is said that a Jm-na is free to take over a job held by an Irine whenever that would suit him. A decision an Irine can only but accept. In view of the smiths' mobility in time and space, one may wonder indeed what was their real impact on the evolution of "Dogon culture". The smith's working place may have an unassuming and sober look, the artistic creations that have been produced there are among the most dazzling manifestations of the Dogon cult system.



   
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