Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

‘Find the ekijunjumira’

Iron mine discovery, ownership and power among the Toro of Uganda

S. Terry Childs

ABSTRACT

In many instances of precolonial African iron-working, it is difficult to examine the people and activities associated with mining in isolation from smelting and smithing. Some of the same people are involved in all three processes as a result of social, politico-economic and ideological factors. This chapter focuses on the significance of discovering a new source of iron ore among the Toro of Uganda and its impact on subsequent smelting and smithing. Recent ethnographic interviews with elderly iron-workers reveal the social and politico-economic consequences of a discovery. A person was lucky when he found the glittery stones dug up by an ekijunjumira beetle because the discovery could bring him wealth. It also initiated new investments and social responsibilities for the discoverer and new owner, including obligations to his clan spirit, recruiting and employing iron-working specialists, protecting his source of wealth, and fulfilling socio-economic demands on him as a man of power. The importance of mining to the Toro economy and society was also evident when it was banned by colonialists in the early twentieth century. Ethnographies of mining can provide archaeologists with important tools to interpret past metal-producing societies. Unfortunately, we learn that informative sources of insight, such as songs, will rarely be available.


INTRODUCTION

Precolonial miners of the Toro kingdom in western Uganda left behind numerous open mine shafts that are hidden today under dense woods, tangled shrubs or high grasses. This legacy of pock-marked hillsides now testifies to the regular exploitation of iron ore up to the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Toro miners were ordered to stop working by their king (omukama) and the British. Who were the people who created these shafts? What were their relationships to the small communities of people who lived nearby? What other material and non-material record have they left behind, besides deep holes, that document their craft and the social and physical context in which it occurred?

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