Spirit in a spear blade – Mande Blacksmiths

Patrick McNaugthon’s study of Mali metalsmithing identified a problem in the applying Western distinction between art and life:

The Mande people of Mali, like some other African peoples, give a name to every kind of sculpture that they produce, and also to categories of objects such as wooden twin figures, dolls, animal masks and headdresses (McNaughton 1988:110f.). These names may be revealing as to an object’s perceived spiritual potency. Some types of objects might not be considered as art by Westerners, as in the case of spear blades and oil-burning lamps. Yet the Mande consider their beauty, symbolism, and place in society to take them beyond simple utility. The distinction between art and artifact (or crafts) is not generally marked in African languages.

Patrick R. McNaughton The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power and Art in West Africa Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988