1. The Blacksmith and the Rainmaker
After students read the following tale they will discuss the questions that are posed right after the narrative by the author. It is a story similar to many that are told in this part of the valley about the two very important specialists, here portrayed as rivals, the rainmaker and the blacksmith. Each thought himself the more important and valuable member of the community. The following version of the story is retold from a version given to Adrian C. Edwards by blacksmith Martin Isa of Womkura, Womkasa. The version from which this is retold is quoted in Edwards’ article, The Blacksmith and the Rainmaker among the Verre. (citation).Edwards lived at Yadim in Verre country in the Benue River Valley from 1985–1987.
Blacksmiths were rivals with the rainmaker.
The blacksmith went to the rainmaker’s work, and when the rainmaker met him, he said that he was greater than the blacksmith.
The blacksmith said that it was he, the blacksmith, who was greater than the rainmaker.
That is why they became rivals.
Rainmaker stopped making rain for one year.
Then both the rainmaker and the blacksmith were hungry, and the next year the blacksmith brought fire.
The rainmaker’s rain put out the fire.
Then the blacksmith left smithing things, then they were hungry that year again, two years.
Then they came together, they said now they knew they were equal.
That is why, if the blacksmith brings fire, the rain does not quench it, until he finishes his work.
The rainmaker then came to the forge, and there met the blacksmith forging hoes.
He chose a hoe, gave it to the rainmaker, and said, ‘Let him farm,’ Then they held hands, and that is how they are equal.
The author (Edwards) discusses the significance of the above tale and poses some interesting questions that students may consider and discuss:
Is it a political myth about the balance of power in Verre society?
Is it a cosmic myth about fire and water as opposing principles?
Is it a myth that justifies a ritual?
Is it simply a “Just-So Story” about discovering equality through a quarrel?
How, as Edwards writes, is “the contraposition of rainmaker and blacksmith… to some extent a contrast of nature and culture…”?
Why might the story have been particularly relevant in earlier times? Blacksmiths were more respected and more prosperous than most other group members since at that time their work was less readily available from other sources.The role of rainmakers, before the influence of Christianity and Islam, was certainly more significant.
2. Flash at the Anvil; Flash in the Sky
The forged wands in the exhibition (figs. 6.3 and 6.4) feature sinuously wavy lines or lines that are more sharply angled zigzags. As such, the lines are referencing snakes or lightning, but the same configuration might bring other images to the minds of the students. For this art and language activity each student will need one piece of white paper and one of black, about 9" x 12" each. Cut the black paper in half so students now have two pieces, each 6" x 9". On one of those pieces draw an expressively jagged line, about ¼ to ½" wide beginning at one of the short ends and zig-zagging almost (but not quite) to the other end. Cut out this line. Glue the black paper with its cutout line to the white, matching top, bottom and one edge. The cutout piece of black can be positioned and then glued onto the white half of the paper using any design element the student prefers. The student may have a mirrored image, a duplicate [same direction] image, or other. See two examples on the following page.
An accompanying language exercise has students using one image to apply to two disparate ideas. The image might be of falling rain (how would the student depict this with cutout paper?) and the opposing thoughts might be “misting gently on my face” and “sharply thrusting sheets of water.” Perhaps he or she would think of a shoe, “bright red, shiny and party-perfect” contrasting with “worn, comfortable, ready-for-a-run sneaker.” The cutout image of a generic shoe would be placed on the paper, the title written on the back or on another piece.
3. Waves of Rain
Another activity would be based on the wavy-lined rainmaking iron. This time students will use two colors of smaller papers, one color about 3” x 5” and the second color about 1” less on both dimensions. On the smaller paper cut out a curving line dividing the paper in two. Place (but don’t glue yet) the paper onto the larger piece and move the two cut pieces slightly apart, creating a negative space between the two cutout pieces. Continue with more wavy lines, each time adding them, slightly separated, to the larger paper. Students will have to watch carefully that they retain the order of the separated pieces, so that if they were to rejoin all the cut pieces it would form the original rectangle. See the examples. You will notice that the separated pieces could be about the same size or could be graduated from large at one end to narrower at the other. The same could be true of the negative spaces formed.
4. Metal Transformation
Metalworking skills continue in present day Africa where artists and other workers use metal—both new and scrap—to fashion objects. Some become useful tools while some are mainly decorative. Students can use discarded metal (from kitchens, shops, schools, etc.) to fashion both.