Chris O'Dell Photographs

Smelting Iron in the Congo

Ziare - smelting iron
Smelting Iron in the Congo

This was taken in the very centre of Africa, a day's dusty, bumpy drive from Kisangani, (previously Stanleyville) where the River Congo curves round above the equator and heads South West.  This is the true heart of darkness.  We were making a documentary about the Mangbetu tribe, said to have been be the last cannibals in Africa, for the BBC series "Under the Sun".  The people were most welcoming to us, and we were not eaten, in fact at the end of the shoot we were made honorary members of the tribe.  These ingenious people fabricated razor sharp iron discs, that in the past had been catapulted at their enemies, usually removing limbs, heads, etc.  For this purpose they smelted iron ore in simple charcoal pits.  In this photo the smelting pit can be seen where the smoke is emerging, and the simple two-man-powered bellows pumps air through the charcoal in order to reach the required temperature for the metal to fuse.  We started smelting early in the morning and by dusk had produced a tiny lump of metal about the size of a ping pong ball.  I love rain forests, and our time with this tribe was an exceptional adventure.  The director of the film was Jeremy Marre, with whom I shot several documentaries, each one an unforgetable  experience

Camera:   Bronica ETRS, lens 50 mm Zenzagon, film stock Ilford FP4

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