Recycling the Trash of War

Recycling the Trash of War

Playing on a tank in Ethiopia.
Playing on a tank in Ethiopia.

Last week, we looked at some of the arms and armor of the Abyssinian Empire. With the holidays coming up, I decided to do something a bit more peaceful. On my trips through Africa, I noticed a huge amount of detritus from its various wars. I was impressed at how the people adapted this stuff into something more useful. A lot of the spare metal is picked up and sold for scrap. Old battlefields once littered with burnt-out tanks get cleared out, only a few rusting hulks being left behind.

As you can see in the picture above, one of the tanks that was left behind has been turned into the local jungle gym. This photo was taken in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border. The tank was probably a casualty of the bitter war between the two countries. These kids are Eritrean refugees from a nearby refugee camp, whose only playground is a symbol of what made them refugees in the first place.

The adults reuse old weapons too. Shell casings become ash trays in hotel lobbies, munitions boxes get turned into building blocks or used for storage. Some weapons are even recycled into art. The most famous are the Throne of Weapons and the Tree of Life, both products of artists in Mozambique and now in the British Museum.

This sort of stuff gives me hope.

These shoe shiners in Harar, Ethiopia, use munitions boxes to store their tools and also as seats.
These shoe shiners in Harar, Ethiopia, use munitions boxes to store their tools and also as seats.
This battered old munitions box makes a handy place to store shoe shine and rags.
This battered old munitions box makes a handy place to store shoe shine and rags.
Throne of Weapons, designed by Cristóvão Canhavato of Mozambique. Image courtesy Mike Peel.
Throne of Weapons, designed by Cristóvão Canhavato of Mozambique. Image courtesy Mike Peel.
Tree of Life, designed by a group of artists from Mozambique from weapons traded in for tools. Image courtesy John from Tejas, via Wikimedia Commons.
Tree of Life, designed by a group of artists from Mozambique from weapons traded in for tools. Image courtesy John from Tejas, via Wikimedia Commons.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan unless otherwise noted.

Sean McLachlan is a freelance travel and history writer. He is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles. His most recent novel, Trench Raiders, takes place in the opening weeks of World War One. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

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