Sunday, February 14, 2016

Zura - how to make a bell

I've seen many cows and bulls in the cities and larger towns and villages, but in the rural areas there are many herds of cattle.  The ones I've seen on the roads are accompanied by a single herdsman, who walks with the cattle or water buffalo.
  Each herdsman uses bells on his animals, and the different herds use bells that have a distinct tone.  Some are higher pitches, some lower, but the sounds carry well in the desert air, and enable the herdsman to identify his own animals.  The village of Zura is where the bells are made.
  The picture above has nothing to do with bells.  We walked from our bus which stopped at the edge of the village to the bell-making area.  Above is a shop, not yet open.  Some stores are open very early, while it's still cool, others wait and are open during the evening as well.  There doesn't seem to be a firm rule about when things are open, it's more when the shopkeeper feels like it.
  I like taking pictures of buildings.  Many homes are enclosed by walls which surround a central courtyard.  All you see from the outside are the plain walls and lovely doors, which appear to have been there for centuries.  Most were painted in bright colours, but are now faded and peeling.

As we walked the narrow winding streets, we could hear the sound of hammers on metal and knew we were coming to the metal-workers' workshops.

This man made a bell from start to finish, to show us his work.  It took about twenty to thirty minutes to make one.  He uses scrap iron, gathered in cities and near factories.  In the pictures below, he is cutting a piece for the bell.

This rock has depressions of varying sizes.  As you can see, they are curved, like the inside of a dome.   He's using the largest to curve his piece of metal.

He then curves it further with this upright thing.  All the tools were roughly made, probably also out of scrap,  and many were rusty, but they were perfectly functional.

The bell is now fully curved and the ends overlap to make the bell's body.

Next, the top is made.  Here the artisan is sketching the circumference for the circle, suing a pointy set of calipers to scratch the circle on the metal, which he cut out of the same scrap he used for the body.

He cuts the circle out.

 He hammers the circle into the right shape, tries it out, and then hammers it some more until it fits.

The picture below shows a bell after and before it is fired.

 A woman sat beside the bellmaker, waiting for her part of the process.  When he'd competed the bell with its top, he gave it to her.  She had some soft clay, and pounded a lump into a flat circle.  The bell was dipped in wet clay, and then rolled into the flat clay until it was completely coated.

The bell was then rolled and coated in this mixture of brass filings and borax.

 The kiln or oven or furnace (I'm not sure what they called this), used charcoal as fuel, and has a scrap-metal door than can slide up or down using a rope and pulley.  Here is coated bell inside.  The man covered it with embers and left it for maybe three or four minutes.  The firing is done to give it the lovely gold patina, and I think this part of the process also affects the bell's sound.

 The bell, fresh from the fire, sits a minute or two, is dipped in water to further cool, and is then tapped with a hammer to make the coating fall away.

I tried to find out what kind of wood is used for the clapper, but all I learned was that it was a special kind of wood.

 After the clapper is added, which took a second or two of tapping with the hammer, the most difficult part of the process occurs, and the most impressive.  The bell must be tuned to the specific pitch used by the herdsman who is buying the bell.  This took almost as long as making the bell did, as the artisan tapped along the bell's lower edge, lifted it to shake it and listen to its tone, and then hammered it some more.  I tried to find out how many specific pitches this man had memorized inside his head, but the translation wasn't up to that question.

Below are some examples of bells made for sale.  These are made for tourists to buy, unlike the majority of the output which are for herdsmen and their cattle.

Some bells, as you can see above, are embellished (no pun intended, well maybe just a bit) with etching, and some decorative ones are made out of silver.  Larger bells are made for camels, or elephants.

Below are the forge tools, also roughly made out of scrap metal, but  completely functional.

And above are more village homes.

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