METALLURGY IN PRE-COLONIAL BORGU, WEST AFRICA


Dr. Olayemi Akinwumi

As a result of European imperialism and the Anglo-French Convention of 1898, Borgu was divided between the French and the British. Today it falls within Nigeria in the East and the Republic of Benin in the West. The inhabitants are known as Bariba and Borgawa.

Large-scale iron making in Borgu has to do with the large quantity of iron ore deposits in the region. The soil contained limonite, haematite and gothite. Borgu was also rich in vegetal materials. Two important trees classified as Butyrospermum paradoxum subsp. parkii and prosopis africana were available in large quantities. These trees were cut down and burnt to provide fuel. Prospecting for the ore was not simple. It involved extensive search. The reserve capacity of the field had to be evaluated.

The miners spent up to three months at the site digging and preparing for the smelting process.Miners usually went in groups with their families and all the necessary equipment. At the camping ground, referred to as (Zango) the miners chose a leader, who in most cases, enforced discpline in the camp and was respobnsible for al the necessary religious rites. After enough ore had been stockpiled, the next stage was the smelting process. This was done after the construction of the furnace and tuyeres. Termite clay with other mixtures was used in several areas. At Nikki Wenou, Nikki and Parakou, all regions in the Republic of Benin at present, termite clay was also preferred. This was eventually mixed with sand and other materials. According to my informant this was done to make the furnace strong.The furnace was constructed after certain religious ceremonies and consultations. The tuyeres were then made in final preparation for the smelting process. Smithing then ensued.


For more on this pre-colonial metallurgical activity in Borgu, West Africa see Olayemi Akinwumi, "Metallurgy in pre-colonial Borgu society" in G. Emeagwali (ed), African Civilization: Technical, Social and Political Dimensions, New York, American Heritage, 1997. See also Yashim Isa Bitiyong, "Tin Technology in the Nok region, Nigeria" in the same text. An in-depth discussion of the metallurgical process in Northern Nigeria is given by Nurudeen Abubakar in "Metallurgy in Northern Nigeria" in G.T-Emeagwali, Science andTechnology in African History, NY, Edwin Mellen, 1992.

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