3. Iron Manufactures and Trade

An extract from Provincial Office file B2218 'Iron Ore', being a report by Dr M.D.W. Jeffreys, SDO, dated 14.iii.42.

The historian of the tribe, the half-blind old Missom (Note: the name is Missom. In the draft sent for typing this name was spelt Missong, M.D.W.J.) of Fonfuka, states that in the early days he can remember there were both foundries and smithies in the land. There were two centres where these industries flourished, one was Fonfuka and the other Nga.

So far as they know, their iron workers migrated with them when the tribe moved from Mbiripbaw on Mbwot land. Where their metal workers came from before the tribe left Mbiripbaw no one knows today.

Both types of iron workers, before starting work, collected certain herbs and, by beating them, made a decoction which they placed in their workshops to ensure a successful issue. No one knows today what these herbs were. There is no tradition extant as to how these metal workers acquired their craft.

Missom's father was a blacksmith but used to stay with the foundry men from whom he bought the bloom which he converted into hoes, knives, spears, etc. Missom himself never took up his father's craft because the profits from kola trading were very much higher. (Note: trade was entirely by barter. Kola nuts were exchanged for a) salt; b) Bikom cloth; c) white cloth; d) Wawa cloth. (The Bum name for Bikom cloth is andu. Bikom cloth is the European name for cloth made by the Jukun; cf. Wukari and hence also called Wakari cloth. The Wawa cloth is made at Mutum Biu. The only difference between these two cotton cloths is in the dyeing. The Wawa is plain dyed, the Wukari is pattern dyed.)

The foundry men and the smiths abandoned their crafts for the kola trade and all died out leaving no one to continue these industries. All these changes had taken place before the arrival of the Germans.

Though Missom never became a metal worker he used to collect ore and sell it to the foundries. He, as the last of his age- group, is the only person now alive in the Bum tribal area who knows where to find the iron ore used by the Fonfuka industries. This ore is found beyond Ngong in the Ngong farms. I arranged with Missom to have samples from the Fonfuka ore deposits. They turned out to be limonite, also a ferruginous grit and similar to the one used at We and Isu. (The Geological Department at Kaduna reported on samples of ore obtained from Isu and We that Isu ores are fairly high grade but those of We, if representative, are poor.) Where the Nga ore came from no one knows today because the foundries and other smithies have long since disappeared.

The Bum Chief said it would be very difficult to start the industry again because there were none alive who know it. When iron industries died out they got their supplies of ironware either from Oku or from Babungo.

[EMC: The notion that it was profits from the kola trade alone which led to the extinction of smelting and smithing in Bum needs re-examination. We may be dealing, rather, with the effects of specialization in iron manufacture in areas of higher productivity producing goods of better quality. We know from Babungo and Oku sources that Bum was a market for their iron products which were disseminated from there in exchange both for the palm oil from nearby areas, some of which had escaped Wum (Aghem) attempts to control the Menchum Valley production, and for the trade goods - salt, cloth, beads, and dane guns among them - entering through the Hausa and Benue Trade.]

Glossary Contents Working Notes
Sally Chilver's Field Diary Phyllis Kaberry Fieldnotes Published Account

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