Videos on the technologies and social life of the peoples of the Mandara Mountains of North Cameroon and Northeast Nigeria

Dokwaza1988   N. David and Y. Le Bléis. Dokwaza: last of the African iron masters. (50 mins.) University of Calgary: Dept of Communications Media.

French version: Dokwaza: le dernier maître de fer africain. Both the English and French versions were sponsored by the United Steel Workers of America (Canadian National Office).
Iron metallurgy began to transform the societies of sub-Saharan Africa over 2,500 years ago, but now locally smelted bloomery iron has been everywhere replaced by industrially produced stock. Traditional smelting is a complex process combining science and ritual that was disappearing just as it became feasible to capture it on visual media. This video therefore provides a rare record of a technology whose time has passed, and the reenactment of a smelt by iron workers of the Mafa ethnic group shows a furnace type and a process that are unique to a part of the northern Cameroon and Nigerian border area. Presented in three sequences, Dokwaza is first introduced as we follow the building of the furnace and bellows. Then charcoal and bellows skins are prepared. and the iron master demonstrates how ore is gathered and cleaned. The second sequence follows the long day of the smelt, as the furnace is charged with ore and charcoal, sacrifice made, and, after frenzied working of the bellows accompanied by music and song, a bloom mass is removed from the shaft. The third sequence takes place in the forge and shows the fining of the metal produced and its forging into a traditional hoe.

1990  Vessels of the spirits: pots and people in North Cameroon. (50 mins.) Calgary: Department of Communications Media, University of Calgary.

French version: Demeures des esprits: pots et personnes dans le Nord du Cameroun.

Vessels explores the role of pottery in the daily social and religious life of North Cameroonian peoples. Pots are people and people are pots to the inhabitants of the Mandara highlands of North Cameroon. The videotape documents unusual techniques of manufacture of utilitarian and figurated sacred pottery among the Mafa, Sirak, and Hide, and shows how pots are assimilated to people by their decoration and in their capacity to contain spirits, including those of God and the ancestors. Pots are shown being used in economic, social, and ritual contexts, in the latter as tools for communication with the spirit world. Opening and closing sequences of a festival that involves the release, wild run, and recapture of bulls make the point that the bulls symbolize the spirits and that the ceremony is the central religious rite precisely because it offers a general formula for human action.

1995 Black Hephaistos: exploring culture and science in African iron working. (48 mins.) Calgary: University of Calgary, Department of Communications Media.

The video presents traditional African iron-smelting technology. Uniting ritual, magical, and technical aspects, this technology is metaphorically linked to procreation. The viewer then participates in the metallurgical laboratory work, including optical and electron microscopy that reveals the workings of that technology. Video footage, filmed in 1989 and 1993 in the Mandara highlands of Cameroon and Nigeria, records the process of smelting iron by Ajokfa, a Plata Kapa iron master, and fining and forging by Hundu, a Sukur smith. The scene shifts back and forth between Africa and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at  the University of Arizona, where Dr. David Killick demonstrates how scientific understanding of these processes is gained through metallurgical analyses of their products and byproducts.

A group of male youths of Sukur in the Mandara mountains of Nigeria are initiated into manhood. The ceremony takes place every two years and comprises the classic van Gennep phases of separation, retreat and reintegration into society. In the first, while others engage in the hardest labor of the agricultural season, the young men, covered in red ochre, wander, play flutes and compete with each other. In the second, after a fight that expresses long standing political tensions, and after being blessed in the presence of the chief, they spend some days on a rocky hill under their own governance. In the third, they don traditional costume and are introduced to important spirits before being reintegrated into society as men during a communal dance. In contrast to inheritance, which is patrilineal, in this ceremony it is the links with mothers and maternal kin that are symbolically emphasized.

1999 Regenerating Sukur: male initiation in the Mandara Mountains. (22 mins.) Calgary: University of Calgary, Advanced Media for learning.

All these videos are available for sale from the Department of Communications Media, University of Calgary, Calgary AB, Canada T2N 1N4. Barbara Murray [Tel. (403) 220-3709; Email:] is the person to contact.

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