The smelting movie was chosen for this project for a number of reasons. Essentially it is a good example of an ethnographic movie in that it highlights and examines an ongoing process that contains many examples of ritual and these are captured in the film. The position of the smith is a respected one, he is a ritual specialist, able to 'cure' iron-ore and produce the highly prized metal.

The technological process of smelting in this particular instance seems to be a variety that is not commonly described. All the other descriptions of furnaces that I have come across mention a chimney for example, and several tuyeres. However ritual is a significant part of the process. That the actual technical process is a skilled and complicated procedure there is no doubt, the ritual may act to disguise the technical process, thus ensuring the privileges

Smelting in Africa has a varied and widespread history. Today traditional smelting has all but died out, and the industry was initially affected by the importation of cheap European iron at the turn of the century. That the iron smelting in the film was occurring as late as 1937 is in itself by all accounts unusual.

The film is also of interest as it is a piece of work that has been carried out by two of Major Powell-Cotton's daughters, Diana and Antoinette. This fact allows for another perspective on the museum collection. Also women ethnographic film makers in the 1930's were a rare breed.

The movie contains several good examples of ritual behaviour. Also I have had access to the field-notes of the people who made the film. What I have tried to achieve by the combination of video and text is not only an insight and explanation of the Ovambo and their smelting tradition, but also some insight into the thinking and construction of the film makers themselves. Neither women were anthropologists and I am sure that this is apparent from looking at the notes in terms of how much more information there could be, as well as some of the descriptive comments. The typed field notes have been reproduced as they were found in the museum archives, including spelling and grammatical errors, in order to give the user a sense of comparison with the film. Things discussed in the field notes are not necessarily recorded in the film.

As the film plays the text scrolls, in two frames. One frame has a short description of every shot in the movie. The other frame carries a more descriptive piece of what is happening in any particular sequence of shots. This frame then links to either a slightly more detailed version of the text or the relevant place in the Powell-Cotton field notes.

To the smelting video.

Kwanyama Iron Working by Eugenia Herbert Note: this article was added in June 2001 with the assistencae of Professor Herbert. Her article discusses the Powell-Cotton film that is made available here. We hope to add photographs in due course

To the smelting gallery

To the abstract of an ethnographic article on smelting.

To a smelting terminology glossary.

This page was developed as a UKC Student Project: About the author.