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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The smiths in Sunjata: what epics and oral traditions suggest about West African history
Author:McNaughton, PatrickISNI
Periodical:Mande Studies
Geographic term:West Africa
iron forging
oral traditions
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/44080884
Abstract:Mande smiths played enormous roles in West African history, providing for technologists, craftsmen, sorcerers, advisors, powerful leaders and many more. Mande smith clans have made nearly all the wood and iron tools and weapons, including guns, pottery and sculpture. Other kinds of expertise characterize them too; they were advisors to leaders and mediators, and also diviners, herbal doctors, and sorcerers. The smith clans personify sorcery and are held to have practiced it since ancient times. The epitome of that sorcery is the smith clan's ownership and administration of 'Km', a potent occult association that is led and managed by blacksmiths and employs enormous amounts of what Mande call 'suya' (sorcery). Some artistic objects the smiths made were Km headdress masks, which articulate some of the most important ideas in Mande society, especially regarding sorcery and the energy ('nyama') which emerges from it. The potency of Km is reflected in the imagery of smiths in lore: oral traditions, beliefs, proverbs and stories about people's lives, social worlds and history. The Sunjata Epic is one of the most famous Mande oral traditions and in it blacksmiths appear in profusion, as masters of metal technology, fighters, sorcerers, and kings. After a few words on sorcery, smithing history, and clan identity, the author uses the Sunjata Epic as a starting point to understanding that power and he presents the smiths as they appear in several published versions of the epic. Notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]