The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art of the Bamana Blacksmith

by Patrick McNaughton
Indiana University

Savannah with Niger River (Joliba, “Great River” or Mother of Rivers”), Mali. Photo by Patrick McNaughton. 

In the vast Savannah lands of western Sudan three great and vast empires arose, and during the course of their histories blacksmiths seem very clearly to have played prominent roles, as manufacturers of weapons and much more. In fact a legendary blacksmith named Sumanguru Kante was a powerful leader as the Ghana Empire fell and the Mali Empire rose, and he is remembered today as the great "King of Yesteryear." Another great legendary blacksmith, named Fakoli, helped the Mande hero, Sunjata, defeat Sumanguru and found the Mali Empire. Among the principal and best-known Mande peoples are the Bamana people of Mali.