Fire-drill and hearth, Sambaa people, Tanzania

Bryant and May collection of fire-making appliances.
Fire-drill (length 9 ins) and Hearth (length 4 3/4 x 1/2 x 5/16

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Fire-drill (length 9 ins) and Hearth (length 4 3/4 x 1/2 x 5/16
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Fire-drill, in form of a peeled slender twig, and hearth, probably made of the same wood and with seven drill-pits, each pit well used and with large side-notches, used by the Sambaa people, formerly recorded as Waschambala Tribe of Usambara, north-eastern Tanzania, East Africa.

Humans have throughout history used different techniques and tools to create life-sustaining fires. One of the oldest methods is based on friction. Solid combustible materials are slowly ground against each other or a hard surface, until their temperature is increased, and an ember is produced. Tinder, which is a fine material with the ability to combust quickly, is placed where the two tools touch and ignited by the ember.

Friction methods are presumed to have originated around the same time as percussion methods. While the principle is roughly the same across the world, the techniques and tools vary and range from drilling to ploughing and sawing. This model used by Sambaa people in north-eastern Tanzania, consist of a slender twig which is twisted in the drill-pit of a hearth using hands or feet.

This object is part of the Bryant and May fire-making collection, which used to be displayed in a private museum within the Bryant and May match-making factory’s offices. The collection comprises around 1200 objects, dating from the Stone Age to the early 20th century that illustrate the variety of tools and techniques humans across the world have used to create fires.

The collection was mostly acquired by the ornithologist and fire-making enthusiast Edward Bidwell and cared for by the collector Miller Christy. Bidwell collected between the late 19th and early 20th century – when Britain's colonial power was at its peak. Tracing the objects’ provenance is therefore difficult and part of the long and problematic history of colonial exploitation.


Object Number:
wood (unidentified)
hearth: 120 mm x 12.7 mm x 7.9 mm,
fire-drill: 228 mm
Wilkinson Sword Ltd.