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Darlington, H.S. (1928). The Secret of the Birth of Iron. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 9:71-95.

(1928). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 9:71-95

The Secret of the Birth of Iron

H. S. Darlington

The Finns have a famous epic called the Kalevala. The hero ignored a taboo; and in consequence of this, while he was hewing the wood for the making of a magic boat, he severely wounded his knee with an axe. No one could cure him; for he was destined to be his own physician, who is healed by acquiring wisdom. The particular wisdom he required was the learning of the mystic words that chant 'the secret of the birth of iron.' This paper purports to give the secret of the birth of iron, not in the chant, but in a description of rituals that bring about that strange birth. But since the rituals of the ancient Finns seem not to have been recorded in iron-working practices, we shall have to turn to the blacksmithing and iron-smelting rites of the Bakitara negroes in British East Africa for a parallel case.


The artisans of Kitara all belonged to what we have called the agricultural tribes or serfs (Bahera). The most important industries were iron-working and pottery, and in both of these, the people of Kitara attained to a considerable degree of skill, and produced better work than could be found in the surrounding countries.

The first handling of iron, that is, the quarrying and smelting, was done by the smelters (Bajugusi), and the rough molten iron was purchased from them by the pig-iron workers (Omusami), who worked it up into pieces of various sizes, roughly shaped for different purposes. The smiths (Mwesi) bought this iron and made knives, spears, hoes and other necessary articles.

The smelters were drawn from any clan of the serf class, and their work required a certain amount of skill and experience, for they had to be able to distinguish between good and bad stone. There were two kinds of stone in use, and in common parlance, they were referred to as the male and female. The male was regarded as better in quality, but it had the disadvantage of being hard to break and prepare for smelting. It was black in colour. The female, or soft iron … was red.

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