Manketti wood for friction fire lighting

In the northeastern parts of Namibia, Ju/’hoansi bushmen exclusively use Manketti wood (Schinziophyton rautanenii) for friction fire lighting. At least in areas, where Manketti trees are growing. Such areas are on a slightly higher elevation compared to savanna bushveld vegetation. Both parts of the fire lighting set, which are the hearth board and spindle, are made from the same branches of these trees. And consequently, both got therefore nearly the same diameter.

Choosing the correct wood for a fire-lighting set

Suitable wood is always collected from young Manketti trees and never from mature ones. Mature Manketti trees start fruiting at the age of 25 years. At this age, they already developed a massive trunk and are difficult to climb. On young Manketti trees, a multitude of dead branches can be found. These branches could be suitable for friction fire lighting. But many of them are already decayed by rotting or wood borers. Close inspection and debarking of these branches have to be done before collecting them for further use.

Manketti wood of young branches is exceptionally light, with an air-dry wood density of between 0,17 – 0,27 g/cm3 at a moisture content of 12%. These figures were obtained from the African Wood Database, which can be found here.

The color of dry wood is whitish, is grained along the axis, and has a medium-sized spongy core. These durable grains along the spindle axis improve friction when rubbing against the hearth board and easily develop an ember. For better visibility of the spongy core in this article, a picture showing wet wood was added.

Hand drill friction fire with Manketti wood

The set-up of the hand-drill set is simple. Firstly, a flat plane on top of the hearth board is carved and an indentation is made as an anchor point for the spindle. Secondly, perpendicular to the flat plane, a notch is cut for receiving the ember. And thirdly, a bundle of flat grass blades is laid onto the ground. Above that grass bundle, a knife blade is positioned below the notch for receiving the ember. We used a knife blade on this occasion, as Ju/’hoansi people always use heat-resistant materials to receive the ember and never use leaves or bark as it is common in other parts of the world.

Hand drilling is commonly done by two people, with alternate drilling after every spindle length. They are encouraged by surrounding Ju/’hoansi calling in unison ‘Khwa Khwa khwei’ (meaning: Fire – come).

Lessons learned about Manketti wood for friction fire lighting:

  • Care has to be taken to only collect solid Manketti wood branches
  • Suitable branches have to be debarked
  • Hand drilling done by two people is easier than done alone.

We appreciate your opinion