Art of the Bamana Blacksmith

by Patrick McNaughton
Indiana University

Simple lamp from the city of San, Mali. Photo by Patrick McNaughton. 

Lamps such as these, ranging in complexity from one cup to dozens, were formerly used everywhere in the Mande region. They illuminated the interiors of homes as well as their central courtyards and entryways. They graced the sides of city streets and stood at the town entrances. Oil and a cotton wick were placed in each iron cup, and the wick was then lit. As oil dripped on the burning wick onto the rim of the cup, the name spread around its parameter, producing a lovely shimmering effect. Since the middle of the century, however, kerosene lanterns, flashlights, and electric light bulbs have replaced them. Blacksmiths still make these lamps, but generally only for sale to foreign visitors.