Art of the Bamana Blacksmith

by Patrick McNaughton
Indiana University

Two smiths at work in the city of San, Mali. Photo by Patrick McNaughton.

Mande blacksmiths are members of special professional castes, whose social status is both high and low. Smiths are needed for the roofs, utensils, and weapons they make and for the occult powers they possess. But they are so depended upon for their products and so powerfully imbued with occult powers that many other people find them ominous and even loathsome. Male smiths make nearly all the implements of wood and iron, while female smiths make all of the pottery. Thus a substantial manufacturing monopoly is achieved.