Furnace Fire and Women: Agents of Iron Production and Social Reproduction
We are all part of the people of the world whose discourses are wrapped in traditions, stories or some kind of myth. These might be about its origin or the fabrics that maintained it together or features that distinguish it from the rest of its kind or the other neighbor or far distant people. The life of the Oromo groups who live in most part of western Ethiopia south of the Blue Nile is no different from such a socio-cultural scheme. The result of an ethnoarchaeological endeavor I have conducted on traditional craft since the late 2004 to 2011 has revealed a lot about the cosmology of the society, which can readily be transmitted in the medium of technical ceramic-furnace which itself becomes more socially comprehensible intertwined with fire and woman. The data that is derived during the operational sequences of iron production processes have served as the bases to provide the social/ideological/ritual context surround the trade. Whereas it appears that, the non-physical element of iron smelting is trivial, I would argue, at least in wider Ethiopian context and particularly among the Oromo, that the production of iron tools through the combination of physical elements cannot be fully comprehended in the absence of its social/ritual components. In this regard, the paper also relates the myth of origin of the first smith, his first product of metallurgy and the significance of this myth in conceptualizing production and reproduction in this society. This paper concludes that the knowledge of iron smelting is the product of the views of the people developed in other realms of socio-economic life such as human procreation or agricultural production either in the decoration of technical ceramics or activities and usage of or exchanges of words among the workers during production activities. Such rich experience lends a means of putting together ingredients resulting in a material culture made of iron.
Key words: Ethiopia, Oromo, myth, furnace, fire, women, smith/smelter