Bongo club

Bongo club
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1858
Wood Plant , Iron Metal , Animal Hide Skin , String
Carved , Bound , Tied , Stained
L = 525 mm
Other Owners:
Collected by Petherick between 1856 and 1858, and shipped back to England in 1859. Subsequently acquired by Pitt Rivers, perhaps via auction, as Petherick is known to have auctioned some of his collection through Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27t
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
1856 - 1858
Wooden club consisting of a circular head, very slightly flattened at apex, with the upper surface sloping gently down to a sharp outer edge, the underside then convex down and in below to the junction with the handle. A raised collar has been used to decorate this area, with deep cut grooves above and below; the upper groove has been used to locate a thin strip of hide, which has been tied around it then knotted, leaving two loose ends; the longer of these has a second knot at its end and two pieces of string tied just below. The head and handle may have been carved as separate pieces and then attached, although the method of fixing the two together cannot be seen. The wooden handles tapers in to a slightly rounded end. The lower shaft is decorated with several strips of iron, wound round in a continuous spiral, with the upper and lower ends pushed into a slot cut into the wood below. Four joins are visible between these strips, but it is not clear if the joining sections are also fixed into the wood of the handle in this way. The sharp angular outer edge of the club has several cracks and a number of chips missing, damage that has probably resulted from use or transportation of the object; a further gouge or dent in the upper surface of the head looks to have been polished over. The original light orangey brown colour of the wood (Pantone 470M) may be seen below the darker brown stained exterior at these points (Pantone 4695C). The surface is slightly glossy, and may also have been polished. The object is complete and intact, except for the string which appears broken at the ends. Total length 525 mm, width of head 192 mm, width of collar below head 10 mm (including grooves above and below), length of handle 474 mm, length of iron bound area 77 mm, width of handle just above iron binding 23.4 mm, width of iron strips 2.5 mm, width of hide thong 5.7 mm.

Collected by John Petherick in the Southern Sudan; Petherick led three separate trading expeditions that passed through Bongo territory between 1856 and 1858; this material was shipped back to England in 1859. See Petherick 1861, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa for more details . Subsequently acquired by Pitt Rivers, perhaps via auction, as Petherick is known to have auctioned some of his collection through Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27th June 1862 (see the Catalogue of the very interesting collection of arms and implements of war, husbandry, and the chase, and articles of costume and domestic use, procured during several expeditions up the White Nile, Bahr-il-Gazal, and among the various tribes of the country, to the cannibal Neam Nam territory on the Equator, by John Petherick, Esq., H.M. Consul, Khartoum, Soudan ). This included 7 Bongo clubs, and could possibly be part of lot 19, which is described as "club with mushroom head (Dor)". Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This object was later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, and transferred from there to become part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

This object appears to be the one published in J.G. Wood, 1868, The Natural History of Man Vol. I, p. 494 number 2; J. & K. Petherick, 1869, Travels in Central Africa and Explorations of the Western Nile Tributaries Vol. I, p. 227 (but with the overall caption for the figure of 'arms of the Rohl'); by J. Petherick in his 1861 paper '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, fig. 15 (where it is attributed to the Dor) and in the Pitt Rivers Catalogue of 1874 as pl. IV, fig. 43.

Petherick makes the following comments on these clubs: 'Some resembled the mace of the middle ages, whilst others, made of hard wood, were like the mushroom. The edges were firm and sharp, and when employed against an enemy, would cleave the skull' (1861, p. 400). 'Their arms, equally as their habits, differ from the Dinka or the Djour to the north and west of them ... clubs, dissimilar to any hitherto described, and, as is evident from the peculiarity of their shape, are not required to ward off the lance, for which purpose the bow suffices, but are used sometimes to cast, and invariably to inflict a blow wherewith to crush the skull of a fallen enemy' (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 Service Institution, vol iv, no 13, p. 174 ff.

This object is currently on display in the Upper Gallery, Case 46A.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 15] - [insert] 3-figure numbers are P.R. printed catalogue of weapons numbers [end insert] [insert] 1884.12 [end insert] WEAPONS CLUBS [insert] 13 [end insert] - 371 - Short tapering club with iron bound pointed but[t] [sic] & wide mushroom head. DOR. Petherick coll.
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [page opposite 15] - 1884.12.13 No. given AP [drawing] l[ength] = 530 mm [Red biro] A20 F19 33.
Black book entry [p. 15] - 322. Club, mushroom-headed. Dor tribe, C. Africa. Brought by Consul Petherick. [insert] 1884.12.13 [end insert].
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.12.13 [end insert]. Short club, pointed butt, wide mushroom head [Drawing] DOR ibid. [C. AFRICA] (PR 371). [p. 197] [insert] BONGO is tribe's name for itself. They are called DOR by neighbours [end insert, by BB].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 202] - Development of mushroom headed and other forms of clubs. Australian, N. American etc etc. [p. 203] - Club, mushroom headed, White Nile. 371. Screen 12, [cases?] 246 & 247.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) [p. 63] - No 371, Fig. 43, is a mushroom-headed club of the Dor tribe, Central Africa and corresponds in form to No 343, 346 and 354, [1884.12.66, 188 and 195 respectively] but has the ridge more fully developed. [p. 73] SCREEN 12. CLUBS. [p. 74] AFRICAN CLUBS [p. 75] 371. Mushroom-headed CLUB. Dor tribe of Negroes, White Nile. Corresponding in form to Nos 343, 346, or 354, but having a broader head and sharper ridge. Fig. 43.
Card Catalogue Entry - both the tribes and clubs catalogue card repeat the accession information; the latter adds the collection date of 1858, and is annotated with the photograph number in red [RTS 7/4/2004].
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - MUSHROOM HEADED CLUB. DOR NEGROES. CENT. AFRICA. 1884.12.13. PETHERICK COLLECTION [label stuck onto upper shaft]. [3]71. MUSHROOM-HEADED [...word missing] DOR TRIBE OF [N]EGROES, WHITE NILE. CORRESPONDING IN FORM [TO] NOS 343, 346 OR 354, BUT HAVING A BROADER [HEA]D AND SHARPER RIDGE. FIG. 43. [rectangular label, much smaller than the first, stuck onto mid shaft, and damaged with some edges missing; RTS 11/2/2004].
Written on object - DOR tribe. WHITE NILE, C. AFRICA. Petherick coll. PR. coll (371). HB [drawn as monogram] cat. XLVIII. [marked on shaft above binding; RTS 11/2/2004].

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museum (V&A). [AP]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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