Central African blacksmiths have been smelting iron ore and forging metal for at least a thousand years. During the forging process, iron is repeatedly heated and hammered to achieve the desired form. The blacksmith's specialized ability to forge iron into ritual objects, implements and weapons is highly valued in his community.
Before the introduction of coins among the equatorial Bantu groups, exaggerated blade forms--some blades range from five to six feet in height--were used to pay for large purchases, such as a canoe, or to pay bridewealth. The institution of bridewealth exists throughout Africa, having counterparts in the custom of the European dowry and, to a lesser extent, in prenuptial agreements. Bridewealth does not refer to purchasing a wife. Instead it is a way to compensate the bride's family for the loss of its daughter's services, which will now benefit her new family. The typical scenario requires the groom, or the family of the groom, to provide gifts, or brideprice, to the family of the bride.
Many objects were acceptable as bridewealth, but among the most striking are the enormous iron blades of the Turumbu people. These spear blades span up to five feet long and typically weigh as much as four and a half pounds. The size of the blade determines its relative value. The blade serves as a measure of wealth and usually were not converted into more utilitarian objects. If the marriage failed, the groom's family might attempt to reclaim the bridewealth.
Roughly triangular iron blade in spearhead form, grooved on one half of each side.
Jean-Pierre Ghysels, Brussels, -- to 1983
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