African Archaeological Review

, 28:161 | Cite as

Jack of Two Trades, Master of Both: Smelting and Healing in Ufipa, Southwestern Tanzania

  • Bertram MapundaEmail author
Original Article


Pre-colonial African ironworking was much more than just a technology; it encompassed economic, social, political, symbolic, and even healing components. It is only unfortunate that archaeometallurgical research has not availed equal weight to each aspect, hence the apparent obscurity of some of them. Revealing the multiple facets of healing as manifested in ironworking technology, this paper attempts to rectify this imbalance. Essentially, the paper examines pros and cons of combining ironworking with healing of humans, a phenomenon common among ironworking communities in pre-colonial Africa. It is revealed that by combining the two, iron smelters ensured themselves of gains beyond technology and economy; they also became socially and politically influential. In addition, the paper notes that there existed a very close connection between healing and ritualism not only among smelter–healers but also conventional healers. After a thorough examination, it is found that the connection between the two was also pragmatic and deliberately instituted by the practitioners in order to enhance monopoly of their trade and protect their inventions against interlopers.


Fipa Tanzania Iron smelting Smelter-healers Techno-medicine 


Le travail des métaux en Afrique precoloniale était plus qu’une simple technologie; il comprenait des dimensions économiques, sociales, politiques, symboliques et même médicales. Il est regrettable que les recherches archéométallurgiques n’aient pas accordé le même égard à chacun de ces aspects, d’où l’apparente obscurité de certains d’entre-eux. Cet article entreprend de rectifier ce déséquilibre en mettant l’exergue sur les facettes plurielles de la guérison telles que manifestées dans la technologie du travail du fer. Cet essai examine essentiellement les avantages et inconvénients de combiner ces deux activités, le travail du fer et la guérison des personnes, un phénomène commun aux communautés métallurgiques de l’Afrique précoloniale. Nous montrons qu’en réunissant les deux, les artisans de la réduction du fer s’assuraient des gains au delà des domaines technologiques et économiques; ils devenaient également des personnages influents sur les scènes sociales et politiques. De plus, l’article suggère qu’il existait un lien très fort entre la guérison et le ritualisme, non seulement chez les artisans des métaux mais aussi parmi les guérisseurs conventionnels. Après un examen approfondi, il est constaté que la connexion entre les deux était aussi pragmatique et délibérément instituée par les praticiens en vue de conserver leur monopole professionnel et protéger leurs inventions contre les tentatives de piratage/contrefaçon.



The main drafting of this paper was done in the spring of 2008 when I was a research fellow at the University of Bergen, Norway under the Nile Basin Research Project (NBRP). I would therefore like to thank the University of Bergen for the opportunity and my colleagues in the NBRP for academic and social discourse.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of Dar es SalaamDar es SalaamTanzania

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