Zande shield

Zande shield
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Congo, Democratic Republic of?
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?By 1939
L (approx.) = 1275 mm W (centre, approx.) = 350 mm
Field Collector:
?Henry Balfour
PRM Source:
Henry Balfour?
Found unentered 1955
Collected Date:
?By 1939
Basketwork shield with curved ends. The grip is missing.

The original collector and donor of this object are unknown. This shield was identified as Zande by Evans Pritchard.

Petherick describes the Zande shield as follows: 'The Neam Nam ... shield is made of reeds, or the leaf of the palm-tree, interwoven in tasteful patterns of variegated colours .... When giving battle the Neam Nam has two or three of the iron missiles [i.e.: throwing knives] … suspended by a leather button to the inside of the shield, lying directly over the handle of it, the whole of which and a couple of lances he grasps in his left hand, whilst with a lance in the right hand he assails his enemy … The shield made of so light a substance will not repel a lance but when struck by one, the combatant giving a slight movement either to the right or left counteracts the penetration of the lance, which becoming entangled and suspended in it furnishes him with his enemy's weapons in lieu of his own which he is supposed to have cast.' (J. Petherick, 1860, 'On the arms of the Arab and Negro Tribes of Central Africa, bordering on the White Nile', Journal of the Royal United Services Institution IV no. 13, p. 176). Further descriptions are published in his 1861 publication, Egypt the Soudan and Central Africa, 'Their arms consist of ... a large oblong shield, formed of closely woven matting, composed of several patterns, and dyed with many colours. In the centre of the interior is a wooden handle …' (p. 469); Petherick goes on to list the Zande term for shield as abrooda (p. 481). See also J. & K. Petherick, 1869, Travels in Central Africa, p. 280-281.

Evans-Pritchard comments that 'the bearing of shields seems to have been forbidden by the British Administration soon after its occupation [in 1905], so that, except for a few old ones preserved out of sentiment, they were no longer to be seen in the 1920's, though there were craftsmen who could still make them' (Evans-Pritchard 1971,
The Azande , p. 100).
For photographs of Zande warriors demonstrating the use of wickerwork shields, see Evans-Pritchard, 1971,
The Azande, plate IV, and several unpublished images in the PRM photographic archives: 1998.341.1, 1998.341.12, 1998.341.45-48, 1998.341.113, 1998.341.243, 1998.341.311, 1998.341.345, 1998.341.359, 1998.341.363, 1998.341.367, 1998.341.394, 1998.341.402, 1998.341.423, 1998.341.764-766; for images of a Zande craftsmen called Mamenze weaving a wickerwork shield, see 1998.341.63 and 1998.341.152. These images were taken by Evans-Pritchard sometime between 1926 and 1930 (pers. comm. Chris Morton 2003)

This object is currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 5B number 130.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 56] 1955.5.8 - Ascribed to the late H. BALFOUR. Found unentered - EAST CENTRAL AFRICA [insert] UPPER CONGO (probably) [end insert]. AZANDE type. Shield of close basket-work, parallel sides, curved ends. Two stiff rods running down centre. Grip missing. Length 4’ 3”, width (centre) 1’ 2”. Identified by Prof. Evans-Pritchard, and c.f. specimen given by Rev. W. [insert] P. [end insert] Allen [sic]. (Ac. Book III.68).

Card Catalogue Entry - The information is that same as in the accession book entry, but the Reverend Allen is spelt Allan, which is the correct spelling of his name [RTS 10/2/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - EQUATORIAL AFRICA UPPER CONGO (prob.), AZANDE type. Ascribed to H. Balfour, found unentered. 1955.5.8 [rectangular metal-edged label, not kept with object; RTS 18/5/2005]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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