Blacksmiths in Ivory Coast

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Organized in 1978, the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association is an affiliate of ABANA. We represent blacksmiths, bladesmiths, and farriers in West Virginia and its surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky. 

We publish a quarterly newsletter which keeps our membership up to date on events. The newsletter also features many metalworking tips.  

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Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

© 2002

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Blacksmiths Thrive Using Ancient Methods In Ivory Coast

By Gerry and Jennifer Carter

As told to Dave Allen, Editor of the ABA Newsletter

senoufo blacksmith

Jennifer Carter is a brave soul, indeed. She has spent the past two years as a Peace Corps worker in remote areas of Ivory Coast, a storied country just north of the equator. You may recall the region as French Equatorial Africa if you took geography before the 60’s. Predominately known for supplying nearly half of the world’s cocoa, Ivory Coast is still a primitive land in many areas. Jennifer has worked on water and sanitation projects and will help build a community school this coming year. Thus, many of the things we take for granted are just now taking shape there.

In August 2000, her parents, Gerry & Betty Lou, visited her. They were treated to their own hut with absolutely none of the usual American amenities such as running water or electric. The temperature stays near 100o F. in this equatorial clime and the humidity is quite oppressive. As the Carters live in Elkins WV, (elev. 2,300 ft.) they seldom even need air conditioning during the summer.

The family spent nearly three weeks in-country and enjoyed their time there. When Gerry arrived, Jennifer told him to say “OomBah!” when he was greeted by the locals. This proved quite amusing to their African hosts as “OomBah!” spoken with a WV accent drew a laugh or two.

When they traveled to Koni, Gerry came across the Senoufo blacksmiths, craftsmen who are held in high esteem throughout the country. For centuries they have mastered their trade. The Senoufo are also outstanding farmers and Gerry said their fields and farms are very neat, rivaling those that you’d find in Amish country here in the states.

The Carters were kind enough to make these photos and the story of their trip and Jennifer’s work available to the ABA.

 

Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) is slightly larger than New Mexico with a population of 16.4M. The country declared independence in 1960 from France. Major exports are coffee and cocoa.

map of ivory coast

 

Step by step:  From raw ore to finished tools, the Senoufo blacksmith does it all

(click thumbnails to enlarge photos)

(1)   iron furnace (2)   iron pellets

Iron ore (dug from pits or shafts) is carefully washed to remove dirt and impurities.  The ore is mixed with charcoal and fired in an earthen kiln.(1)  This kiln does not have an air blast but its construction and venting allows for rapid air flow.

The smelted ore yields small puddles, or blooms, that are ground into fine pellets.(2)

A clay kiln/forge is fired to refine the pellets into finished iron. This process is similar to the crucible method. The man on top of the kiln operates two bellows made from animal hides.(3)

The blacksmith finishes the tool.(4)

Historically, the Senoufo people have assigned a special position within the tribe for the blacksmith. They believe that blacksmiths are endowed with special powers due to their relationship with the earth, their working with iron and fire. 

Blacksmiths are often responsible for presiding over funerals. During a funeral procession, masked dancers intimidate and chase away evil spirits, while the blacksmiths dig the grave and carefully position the corpse inside. They present one final meal to the deceased, then feast and celebrate.

From the Travel Guide

(3)   blacksmith forge (4)   finishing tool

 

A TRAVEL STORY

Our guide drove us some 1,600 miles through the countryside of Ivory Coast on our tour. Most back roads were in fair condition. There were some super potholes to avoid. In Ivory Coast, some repairs to back roads are made by ‘entrepreneurs.’ The country’s highway department can’t do it all. We would often see a crew of men repairing the road bed with mud that hardened as strong as concrete when it dried. When passing through one of these work zones, it is customary to throw coins from the car and that is how these road crews are paid.

We had just passed a road crew when our 1960 Mercedes sedan, still in good condition, broke down. Our driver determined that the alternator was shot. So he got a young man from the road crew and paid him some money to hitch a ride to the nearest town to find a mechanic. I thought we’d be stranded for the rest of the day in the 100o heat.

The messenger was to hire a taxi for the return trip with the mechanic but he decided to pocket the money and hitch a ride back. To our relief, he did have a mechanic with him. And the mechanic quickly confirmed that the alternator needed repairs. He took it off and then hitched a ride to town which was several miles away.

To my surprise, he returned with the alternator, saying it needed only a new bearing. In all, we waited only three hours.

No highway department and no AAA road service. And yet we were stranded for less time than if we’d been traveling in the USA!

 

This article originally appeared in the March 2002 edition of the ABA Newsletter. Photos by Gerry Carter.  Top photo: Blacksmith on top of earthen iron furnace.

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