28 Abisi Smiting

Blacksmith products

In 1973, there were four blacksmiths /asa/, two of which were active in Igallik and two in Agiram.

One Igallik blacksmiths is a Ribam and the Ekantin rent the services of a Rukuba although they already had one blacksmith whose forge was not taken by anyone when he passed. The

The Nigertin never had blacksmiths and always used services from foreign blacksmiths, especially Ribam. This was not new, Abisi could always pay with grain. At times, Abisi blacksmiths also worked for Rukuba.

The Nigertin never had blacksmiths and always used services from foreign blacksmiths, especially Ribam. This was not new, Abisi could always pay with grain. At times, Abisi blacksmiths also worked for Rukuba.

The Nigertin never had blacksmiths and always used services from foreign blacksmiths, especially Ribam. This was not new, Abisi could always pay with grain. At times, Abisi blacksmiths also worked for Rukuba.

Abisi blacksmiths are not privileged as it is the case in Rukuba where their prestige is such that they are similar to some extent to their Chiefs.

However, this does not prevent Abisi to attribute them special powers such as the control of strong medicines to help them with their work. Some people think that these powers go beyond the forge and may be used on others.

In fact, Abisi blacksmiths are transformers and not producers of iron.

Often, African blacksmith that produce iron from ore are put in a class apart from others but it is not the case in Abisi. They do that because the blacksmiths producers control all iron tools and arms which gives them a lot of power. Working with smelting fire is also seen has a great risk that needs strong special powers that people are afraid of.

It seems that Abisi blacksmiths never produces iron (ileoŋ) (this term is also used for currency) from ore (iktama). Neither Abisi Hill nor Zaria plain contain ore with sufficient high iron content while the Plateau is full of various minerals like iron and tin, the latter having already been used by Nok people some 2500 years ago (Fagg 1960, p. 291).

The absence of these minerals has protected Abisi during British occupation. Mine companies had no reasons to expropriated their territory.

In the past, at the beginning of the century, the main source of iron was exchanged against grain in Zangon Katab in Chawai area (Gunn 1953, p. 50). Shortly after the British occupation, they got their iron from industrial waste in Jos.

Iron scraps is now available in major regional markets: Karambana, Binchi, Mariri and Zangon Katab.

Abisi blacksmiths are also cultivators. But it is during the rainy season that their work is most intense and they cannot participate in most of the agricultural work, busy forging. Two of the current blacksmiths live in association with a married younger brother while the other two are heads of independent households.

They must compensate their own agricultural production by hiring work groups. For instance, one blacksmiths had offered 14 pots of beer, 5 meals and 4 hens for hoers, a team of 32 young men worked for him for 12 hours. Other groups, of a dozen men, required 50 kobo per day per person.

It appears that a blacksmith has to use a significant portion of his profits to its own agricultural production. However, he still can make some benefits and that is shown by that his higher expenses.

It is common knowledge that blacksmiths drink a lot more beer than others. In addition, the four blacksmiths each have a bicycle that is a rare commodity, only 20 were own in all Abisi in 1973. It should be noted that several men said they would prefer to get a good horse rather than a bicycle.

This difference in income between blacksmiths and farmers is not new: in 1929 a colonial administrator (J.C. Drummond-Hay) estimated to 4 pounds the extra annual income of a blacksmith.

Despite its this limited margin, colonial administration required blacksmiths a per capita tax of 50% higher than other farmers. This had the effect of leveling their income level.

From the perspective of Abisi farmers, wealth is not defined in monetary terms but in terms of agricultural production:

“A rich man is the one whose new crops meet last year crops in his granary.”

A blacksmith is not seen as rich because he does not devote all his time working in agriculture.

Economic power of blacksmiths did not give them an easier access to marriages. Of the four blacksmiths, two have one spouse, another has two wives and one has three wives, one of which was his dead brother’s wife.

Blacksmith’s products are the same today as in the past, except that several Abisi will get what they need at a market where Amo, Hausa and Rukuba sell their products.

Abisi blacksmiths do not sell their products at market and work essentially to produce and repair large hoes. For these, he usually provides the necessary metal. They can also provide the coal. Payments are usually made in currency, but some give grain equivalent, .

A section of train rail of about 3 feet long can be bought and a piece of 8 to 10 inches can enough to make a big hoe. It can be used for four or five years but the blade has to be extended once or twice a year depending on wear. These parts can be purchased at a local market by customers who bring it to the blacksmith for welding.

The main forging products are listed here.




Adding to this list, the cutting axe /umazum/ used to dig and gouge, the hammer /ugoktu/, the wood drill /ut∫ir/, the chisel /ukurpe/ and new tools like the hammer to straighten /uhamma/ and the file/uzarto/.

The anvil is simply a large rock and bellows are made of two bottled goatskin (apik), iron nozzles and a clay pipe.



Notes on the Forge tools


In general, it is a blacksmith’s son who operates the bellows but customers may, if they wish, contribute to this work.

The cultural importance and market value of agricultural production plus the ease of access to foreign blacksmiths are the main factors of the limited importance of blacksmith work.

But “new blacksmith” may become popular as show a one young man’s project who plans to be a bicycle mechanic practicing on market days.


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