Monday, February 11, 2013

Brazier Making

(written 23 January 2013)
The metalsmith sat on the ground, as usual, working on a wide strip of perforated metal.  He brought a chair out of the house for me, and I sat under the mango tree, watching as he manipulated the sheet with his hands and a hammer, bending it against what appeared to be a scrap of railroad iron.  Folding over each end and then binding them together to form a circle, the brazier began to take shape.  Tracing around the form, he cut out a circle, perforating it with lines of circles by methodically pounding a bolt into the metal.  This he set inside the metal cylinder, a base for the amalasha (natural wood charcoal).  Underneath he had already made slices; now he pushed back portions of the metal to hold the base in place.  The top half provided a bed for the charcoal, the upper lip of the brazier a stable resting place for a pot.  The perforations allowed air flow to fuel the fire and ashes to fall through below.  Hence, the bottom needed a flat surface, too.  The man retrieved a beat-up enamel-coated serving platter from the house, again tracing and cutting out a circle from it.  He sealed it to the frame by folding the metal, bit by bit, around the edge, undoing it and making minor adjustments when he made a slight mistake.
I sat with him for around an hour as he worked.  A toddler climbed around his lap for a while.  “Last born?” I asked, thinking that perhaps he was even a grandchild.  “First born,” he replied, and, by way of explanation, added:  “I didn’t marry quickly.  Nacinanga—I played.”  It was endearing to see his affection for his child, who tumbled around on him as his father went about his work.
Soon the brazier was complete, save for a thin wire that would be inserted to function as a handle.  The barefoot craftsman—I don’t even know his name—constructed it in his dirt courtyard, by hand, in about two hours.  It will sell for K12,000—now, after rebasing, K12—about US $2.50.

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