Zande knife

Zande knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Southern Sudan
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By February 1858
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Hammered , Carved , Incised , Punched , Grooved
L = 253 mm, W handle body = 24 mm, max W blade = 49 mm, max th blade = 2.5 mm [RTS 19/2/2004]
Other Owners:
Collected by John Petherick in 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 27th June 1862
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884; found unentered 2004.
Collected Date:
Knife with carved wooden handle consisting of a flat, roughly circular end, with concave sides flaring in to the handle shaft, which is oval in section, then out again to form a slight hand guard; this is lentoid in section, and cut flat on the end with a slot cut into it to receive the blade tang. This slot has been widened at the centre on both sides to accommodate the thicker midrib of the blade, leaving a gap between blade and handle, that has been filled with an unknown material. The other end of this tang, which is rectangular in section, may be seen projecting from the handle end, off centre, where it has been bent over and hammered back into the wood to fix it in place. The wood is a warm light brown colour (Pantone 464C), and has been polished. The blade is made of silvery grey coloured iron (Pantone 422C), and consists of a short base with convex sides tapering in to meet the sharp angular shoulders of the blade itself, with straight sides flaring in, then convex over to form a point at the other end. There are two lozenge shaped hole cut into the body, one in the base section, the other in the centre of the blade at its maximum diameter. A series of short oblique lines have been punched into the metal as a framing motif around each of these holes. The blade is thickest along the centre, and has been fullered down the upper surface, with two broad grooves along one side of the base section, then similar grooves continuing down the blade length on the opposite edge. This design has been repeated on the blade underside, but along opposite edges. The result is a blade with an ogee-shaped section. The blade edges on both sides and both faces are also slightly bevelled towards the outside cutting edge; this is a double edged weapon, with the base area of the blade sharpened as well as the blade itself. Complete, but with some damage to the handle, which has cracks running along its length and in the handle end, as well as some damage to the blade edge which has several nicks present, probably as a result of use wear. Total length of object 253 mm, length of handle 85 mm, length of visible blade 168 mm, width of handle end 40.5 x 39.8 mm, width of handle body 24 x 20, width of handle guard 45.5 mm, thickness of handle guard 17.5 mm, maximum width of blade 49 mm, width of fenestration through blade 5 mm, maximum thickness of blade 2.5 mm, thickness of cutting edge 0.1 mm.

Collected by John Petherick, a businessman who lived in Khartoum from 1853 to 1858, mounting several trading expeditions into the Sudanese interior during this period. He entered Zande territory for the first time on 24th February 1858, while on his fifth such expedition, visiting the villages of Mundo, Kangamboo and Baranj. This object was probably collected during that trip, as Petherick did not venture into this region again. His collection was 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 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 auction contained at least 5 Zande knives, several of which had associated sheaths. Pitt Rivers sent this object to the Bethnal Green Museum, perhaps in early 1874. It became part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Petherick describes the Zande and their use of knives on p. 469 of his 1861 volume,
Egypt, the Soudan and Central Africa: “Attached to the girdle, a strong leather sheath containing a knife, hilt downwards, is worn by every Neam Nam”. In the same volume he lists the Zande term for knife as sali, but it is not known whether this specifically refers to the style of knife represented by 1884.140.474 (Petherick 1861, p. 481). He describes the way in which this knife was worn 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, p. 176: “Attached to his waist is a knife (fig 20) suspended by a ring to the scabbard, hilt downwards which perhaps is the most convenient way of drawing it being easily done without requiring the assistance of the left hand and fitting tight undergoes no risk of falling out. The point of the sheath it will be observed is turned outwards so as effectually to prevent its injuring the owner in case of a fall or whilst stooping”. The knife that he illustrates here is of similar form to the museum example.

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
PR VIII Accession Book entry [p. 33] - AFRICA, Sudan. Double-edged knife consisting of an iron blade set into a wooden handle with concave sides. The blade has an ogee-shaped section and two oval holes cut into it. Found unentered in upper gallery storage drawer U.81.6 during South Sudan Project, with object marked "NEAM-NAM, E. CENT. AFRICA. PETHERICK 1858. P.R. 891". This information matches the entry in the 1874 Pitt Rivers Catalogue for no. 891 as well as the Black Book Entry [RTS 13/2/2004.]
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) [p. 137] - PIER CASE 33. SPECIMENS ILLUSTRATING THE GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION OF CORRUGATED OR OGEE-SHAPED BLADES. [...] 891, 892. Neam-Nam ogee-bladed KNIVES. Obtained by Mr Petherick in 1858.
Additional Pitt Rivers Catalogue entry [p. 135] -
Nor is the ogee form confined to the blades of arrows in which its use is apparent, but it is also seen in the blades of knives and short swords as in nos 890, 891, and 892, from the While Nile [...].
Black book entry [p. 27] - Specimens shewing the geographical distribution of corrugated & ogee shaped blades. [insert] C[ase].40 [end insert], 773. Neam-nam ogee bladed knife. Cen[tral] Africa. Obt[aine]d by Petherick. With sheaths [presumably only one per knife!]. [insert] C[ase] 40 [end insert]. 774 & 5. Ditto.
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 3/2/2004].
Written on object - NEAM-NAM, E. CENT. AFRICA. PETHERICK 1858. 1884.140.474. P.R. 891 [on handle and lower blade; RTS 19/2/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography