The Metu are a Madi speaking people in Moyo district named after their great grandfather who was known as Metu.

He came from Sudan in the company of three brothers – Nura, Pele and Anziri.

Mr Augustine Nyuma, 73, an oral historian, resident and a descendant says his great ancestors possessed a unique reputation for mining iron ore and blacksmithing.

“When they started, there was no fire. They used stone to hit the iron ore continuously until it got into shape. When people started using fire they began smelting the ironstones,” Mr Nyuma recounts.

Augustine NyumaMr Augustine Nyuma holding a heavy iron ore. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

To identify areas with iron ore deposits the Metu followed streams along which iron rusts were found.

The initial excavation and mining was done using stones while women assisted in transporting the heavy ore to the smelting centres.

At the smelting centre the Metu used the skin of cob to operate an air pumping system functioning as an elementary fan.

The skin was tied to the mouth of a tube and two pieces of stick were used to open and close it. That allowed air to push through the tube to the forge to light a charcoal furnace used for melting the iron ore.

The slag was put aside and the refined iron was shaped into desired tools such as the spade shaped hoes for paying dowry, arrows, and spears among other implements.

The Metu were also well known for supplying the neighbouring communities with metal products for agriculture, hunting and warfare.

That precious knowledge was passed on from generation to generation until the arrival of European manufactured goods pushed the Metu out of business.

“I am unable to do blacksmithing because my grandfather died when I was very young. He did not train me and my father was not interested in ironworking,” Mr Nyuma says.

But he keeps a very heavy piece of iron ore at home to show visitors the mineral that defined the lifestyle of the early residents of this area.

Iron for family planning

In addition to paying fifteen hoes as part of dowry to legalise traditional marriages, the Metu people also used iron products for child spacing.

To do this, the iron ore was placed in water in a boiling pot where it spent three days on fire.

They used the foam generated from the boiling for curing wounds while the rust powder was mixed with shear nut oil to smear the newborn baby and the lactating mother.

blacksmiths forgeMr Augustine Nyuma demonstrating how to set up a blacksmith's forge. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

This was done to make sure the baby’s father stayed away from their room for the first three months. He is forbidden from romantic engagement with the breastfeeding mother during this period.

Should he be seen with traces of iron rust during that period, that would be considered an indication of involvement in unlawful sex attack on the mother and punishments for such a breach were severe.

Iron for settling land disputes

Iron also played an important role in land dispute resolution among the Metu people. Mr Nyuma says whenever a family head died he was buried together with iron ore.

The ore was placed next to the head of the dead person and it was emphasised to the children or orphans to know where their father was buried.

Should a case of dispute arise over that piece of land, the grave would be excavated to look for the iron ore, normally found near the skull to prove the encroacher wrong.

A peek into the future

slagheapA slagheap at Ilegu village in Pameri parish, Metu sub county. Residents say the slag was collected there from a nearby iron smelting centre on the orders of a local chief. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

The Metu people’s obsession with iron and the famous blacksmithing practice may have reduced in importance but the numerous slagheaps of smelted ironstones points to their busy and industrious history.

Most bushes where big trees have been preserved have piles of black and sometimes greyish slagheaps under them.

This should be taken as an indication for potential exploration and exploitation of iron deposits in Moyo, the Obongi county Member of Parliament Hassan Kaps Fungaroo says.

He says the government should pick it up from where the Metu blacksmiths had left by surveying the area to update data related with iron deposits in Moyo and give interested investors leeway to develop the iron mining industry.

Such an endeavour, he contents would trigger development of critical infrastructure, such as road networks, electricity, water and other social services.