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    Thread: The Weaver & the Blacksmith

    1. #1
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      Default The Weaver & the Blacksmith

      The Weaver and the Blacksmith by Amadou Hampate Ba

      In the traditional African society, every artisanal function was linked with an esoteric knowledge transmitted from generation to generation and taking its origin in an initial revelation. The craftsman's work was sacred because it imitated the work of Maa Ngala and supplemented his creation. Bambara
      tradition, in fact, teaches that creation is not yet finished and that Maa Ngala, in creating our earth, left things there unfinished so that Maa, his interlocutor, might supplement or modify them with a view to
      leading nature towards its perfection. The craftsman's activity in operation was supposed to repeat the mystery of creation. It therefore focused an occult force which one could not approach without respecting certain ritual conditions.

      That is why traditional craftsmen accompany their work with ritual chants or sacramental rhythmic words, and their very gestures are considered a language. In fact the gestures of each craft reproduce in a symbolism proper to each one the mystery of the primal creation, which, as I indicated earlier, was bound up with the power of the Word. It is said:

      The smith forges the Word, The weaver weaves it, The leather‐worker curries it smooth.

      Let us take the example of the weaver, whose craft is linked with the symbolism of the creative Word deploying itself in time and space.

      A man who is a weaver by caste is the repository of the secrets of the thirty‐three pieces that are basic to the loom, each of which has a meaning. Before starting work, the weaver must touch each piece of
      the loom, pronouncing words or litanies that correspond to the forces of life embodied in them.

      The movement of his feet to and fro as they go up and down to work the pedals recalls the original rhythm of the creative Word, linked with the dualism of all things and the law of cycles. His feet are supposed to speak as follows:
      Fonyonko! Fonyonko! dualism! dualism! When one goes up the other goes down.

      There is the death of the king and the coronation of the prince, the death of the grandfather and the birth of the grandson. . . .

      [In Africa, to say that someone is dead, people use the expression: "His feet are in agreement", in other words "they have ceased moving". "For the wise elders," notes Amadou Hampate Ba,(2) "life is movement and movement begins with the contradiction of the limbs. . . . Non‐contradiction means
      death." The shuttle, the throwing of which by each hand evokes a need to "let go", is supposed to say: "Life is a constant toing and froing, a permanent gift of self".]

      The gestures of the weaver as he operates his loom [like those of the smith or other traditional craftsmen] are creation in action. His words accompanying his gestures are the very song of Life.

      As for the smith, he is the repository of the secret of transmutations. He is pre‐eminently the Master of Fire. His origin is mythical and in Bambara tradition he is called the First Son of the Earth.

      The elements of the smithy are linked to a sexual symbolism, itself the expression or reflection of a cosmic process of creation.
      Thus the two round bellows worked by the smith's assistant are likened to the male's two testicles. The air they are filled with is the substance of life, sent through a kind of tube that represents the phallus into the furnace of the forge, this representing the womb where the transforming fire works.

      The traditional smith may enter the smithy only after a ritual purifying bath prepared with a decoction of certain leaves or barks or roots of trees chosen according to the day. Then the smith garbs himself in a special way, since he may not penetrate the forge dressed in just any sort of clothes.Every morning he purifies the smithy by means of special fumigations based on plants he knows of.

      These operations over, cleansed of all outside contacts he has had, the smith is in a sacramental state.

      He has become pure once again and is equivalent to the primordial smith. Only now can he create in imitation of Maa Ngala, by modifying and fashioning matter.

      Before beginning work, he invokes the four mother elements of creation (earth, water, air, fire), which are necessarily represented in the forge: there is always a receptacle filled with water, fire in the furnace, air sent by the bellows, and a little pile of earth beside the forge.

      During his work, he pronounces special words as he touches each tool. Taking his anvil, which symbolizes feminine receptivity, he says: "I am not Maa Ngala, I am the representative of Maa Ngala. It is he who creates and not I." Then he takes some water or an egg and presents it to the anvil, saying:
      "Here is your bride‐price."

      He takes his hammer, which symbolizes the phallus, and strikes the anvil a few times to sensitize it. Communication established, he can begin to work.
      The apprentice must not ask questions. He must only look and blow. This is the mute stage of apprenticeship. As he advances in knowledge, he blows in rhythms that are more and more complex, each one having a meaning. During the oral stage of apprenticeship, the master will gradually transmit all his skills to the pupil, training him and correcting him until he acquires mastery. Then, after a liberation ceremony, the new smith may leave his master and set up his own forge. [In most cases he will previously have made a tour of the country to work for other great masters from whom he will have learned not only new techniques but also new practical or occult skills that form part of the great initiatory tradition of the blacksmiths.]

      The smith must have knowledge covering a vast sector of life. With his reputation as an occultist, his mastery of the secrets of fire and iron make him the only person entitled to perform circumcision‐‐the grand Master of the Knife in the Komo initiation is always a smith. In addition to all his knowledge of metallurgy, he has a perfect knowledge of the Sons of the womb of the Earth (mineralogy) and the secrets of plants and the bush. He knows what kind of vegetation covers the earth, where it contains a particular metal, and he can detect a lode of gold merely by examining plants and pebbles.

      He knows the incantations to the earth and the incantations to plants. Nature being regarded as living and as animated by forces, any act that disturbs it must be accompanied by a ritual behaviour designed to save and safeguard its sacred equilibrium, for everything is connected, everything echoes everything
      else, every action agitates the life‐forces and sets up a chain of consequences the repercussions of which are felt by man.

      The craft or the traditional function can be said to sculpt man's being. The whole difference between modern education and oral tradition lies there. What is learned at the Western school, useful as it may be, is not always lived; whereas the inherited knowledge of oral tradition is embodied in the entire
      being.

      The instruments or tools of a craft give material form to the sacred word; the apprentice's contact with the craft obliges him to live the word with every gesture he makes.

      That is why oral traditional taken as a whole cannot be summed up as transmission of stories or of certain kinds of knowledge. It generates and forms a particular type of man. One can say that there is the smiths' civilization, the weavers' civilization, the shepherds' civilization, and so on.
      Thus the traditional artisan, imitating Maa Ngala, repeating the primal creation by his gestures, used to perform, not work, in the purely economic sense of the word, but a sacred function that brought the fundamental forces of life into play and engaged him in his entire being. In the secrecy of his workshop
      or his smithy he partook of the renewed mystery of eternal creation.

      (1) One of the great initiation schools of the Mande (Mali).
      (2) Interview in Jeune Afrique magazine, Paris (N [degrees] 1095, 30 December 1981).
      COPYRIGHT 1993 UNESCO
      COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning
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      Last edited by Yaw Agbede; 11-16-2009 at 11:05 PM.

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      Default Re: The Weaver & the Blacksmith

      This is a very powerful and insightful post, and the metaphors and applications as they apply to Afrikan Technology are deep. Thank you for sharing.

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