Arrow, Bongo?

Arrow, Bongo?

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1858
Wood Plant , Iron Metal , Plant Fibre , Bast Fibre Bark Plant? , Resin Plant
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Carved , Bound , Decorated , Incised Notched
Total L = 659; arrowhead L = 161, blade L = 73, max blade W = 20.3, max blade th = 3, shank W = 7.2, th = 3.9, tang diam = 5.3; shaft L = 498, diam = 8.3 x 8, nock L = 2; upper binding L = 68, lower binding L = 40 mm [RTS 6/7/2005].
37.3 g
Other Owners:
Obtained by John Petherick in the Sudan in 1858 and shipped back to England in 1859. Subsequently obtained by Pitt Rivers, most probably at the auction of Petherick's collection conducted by Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27th June 1862 (see The C
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884; found unentered at Osney by RTS on 6/7/2005.
Collected Date:
By 1858
Arrow consisting of an iron arrowhead with a worn, ogee-sectioned leaf-shaped blade and rounded shoulders leading to a long tang with rectangular section. This is a metallic gray colour (Pantone 877C). There is a small flattened swelling immediately below the blade, decorated with a pair of circular depressions on either side, then the shank has been chiselled down each of the 4 sides to create a series of tightly spaced barbs that point downwards along one edge and upwards along its opposite. The base of the tang is smooth, and has been fitted into the hollowed out top of a segmented cane shaft, with the junction bound round by fibre binding smeared with a reddish brown resin fixative (Pantone Black 5C); this binding covers the smooth lower part of the tang as well as the top of the shaft below. Part of this surface has been lightly tooled, with opposing oblique hatching on the upper section of binding, and a band of crosshatching just below the top of the cane body. This shaft is an orangey brown colour (Pantone 722C), but heavily accreted with a darker reddish brown material over most of its surface; parts of 5 body segments are visible. The end of the shaft has also been bound round with resin smeared fibre strips, which thicken just above a very shallow nocked end with concave notches cut into either side; the swollen part of this binding also shows signs of lightly incised hatching. The arrow is complete, but shows signs of wear on the blade, and has a weight of 37.3 grams. It has a total length of 659 mm, with the visible part of the arrowhead to the top of the shaft being 161 mm long, while the blade itself is 73 mm long, 20.8 mm wide across the shoulders and 3 mm thick at its centre, the barbed shank is 7.2 mm wide and 3.9 mm thick, and the bound tang has a diameter of 5.3 mm. The cane shaft is 498 mm long, with a diameter of 8.3 by 8 mm, and a nock length of 2 mm. The upper binding (including tang area) is 68 mm long; the lower binding has a length of 40 mm.

Obtained by John Petherick in the Sudan in 1858 and shipped back to England in 1859. The style of the ironwork might suggest a Bongo origin for this piece - in particular the flattened knob at the base of the blade with 2 circular depressions in either side is similar to details seen on Bongo lenticular knives such as 1884.24.206 and other items. The Bongo were called the Dor by Petherick in his publications, which is the Dinka name for them (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard 1929, "The Bongo",
Sudan Notes and Records XII no I ). This object is said to have been collected in 1858; in that year Petherick led a trading expedition through Bongo territory, an account of which is given in his 1861 volume, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa. The expedition entered Bongo territory on January 25, 1858, visiting villages called Djau, Kurkur, Maeha, Mura, Umbura, Modocunga, Miha, Nearhe, Gutu, Mungela, Ombelambe and Lungo. Later in February they passed back through the Bongo villages of Djamaga and Lungo again.

The arrow was subsequently obtained by Pitt Rivers, most probably at the auction of Petherick's collection conducted by 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). A total of 1135 arrows were sold at this auction, grouped together in multiple lots; of these, 475 were stated to be Bongo, included amongst lot numbers 3, 9, 12, 13, 18-19, 53, 56-7, 79, 81, 92, 101, 112-114 and 118. Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects delivered there, probably in 1874, and it was later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, before becoming part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Petherick commented that the favourite weapon of the Bongo was the bow and arrow, used in conjunction with spears and clubs. "... the heads of scarcely two are alike, and the generality of them so numerously barbed that extraction cannot take place without making a considerable incision to free it from the muscle or flesh in which it may be imbedded [sic]. Occasionally, some of these arrows are poisoned; this, however, with the Dôr is but rarely the case, as they are also used in the chase ... The tactics of the Dôr when giving battle are to run up to within fifty or sixty yards of the enemy, and discharge a quantity of arrows at him" (J. Petherick, 1861, "On the Arms of the Arab and Negro Tribes of Central Africa, Bordering on the White Nile",
Journal of the Royal United Service Institution IV no. 13, pp 174-175.

Schweinfurth published a number of spearheads and arrows that show generic similarities to this piece (see G. Schweinfurth 1875,
Artes Africanae, pl. VII). He states that the Bongo make their shafts of either wood or a cane-like grass, with iron heads inserted into the top, cemented with resin and bound with bark bast. The lower ends are notched to receive the bowstring and thickly bound with the bark bast of the Grewia mollis so the user can grasp the end firmly in their fingers. Their bows have a range of around 100 paces. Poisoned arrows are bound round the arrowhead shank between the barbs with bast, to fix the poison, which is the 'milkjuice of the Euphorbia venefica ' (op. cit. captions for figures 11 and 16). The lack of such binding in this instance, if it is a Bongo object, might indicate that it was not poisoned.

This object is very close in form to arrow 1884.140.840.

Rachael Sparks 29/8/2005.

Primary Documentation:
PR VIII - [p. 66] 1884.140.828. AFRICA, Sudan. Arrow with iron ogee-sectioned leaf-shaped head on segmented cane shaft with bound and nocked end. Collected by John Petherick in 1858. Marked "WHITE NILE, CENT. AFRICA, PETHERICK COLL:, 1858, P.R. 894", found unentered at Osney store and matched on basis of PR number to Delivery catalogue I entry p. 27 and the Pitt Rivers 1874 catalogue p. 137, which describes the nock as a "cavity". RTS 6/7/2005.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) [p. 137] - PIER CASE 33. SPECIMENS ILLUSTRATING THE GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION OF CORRUGATED OR OGEE-SHAPED BLADES. [...] 893, 894, Fig 99. ARROWS, with iron leaf-shaped ogee-bladed heads, White Nile, Central Africa. Obtained by Mr Petherick in 1858. They have no feathers; one has a notch [893] and the other a cavity at the end [894].
Additional Pitt Rivers Catalogue entry [p. 135] -
This form [ogee] ... is also seen ... in the arrows of the Dor and other tribes of the White Nile, discovered by Petherick, Nos. 893 and 894, fig. 99.
Delivery Catalogue I entry [p. 153] - Glazed case specimens illustrating the geographical distribution of corrugated blades. [ditto marks] [Arrow head, iron, cane shaft] 894 [Screen or case] 212.
Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan. BONGO tribe? Iron arrowhead on cane shaft. Coll. John Petherick 1858. Pitt Rivers Founding Collection, 1884.140.828 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 6/7/2005].
Written on object - WHITE NILE, CENT: AFRICA. PETHERICK coll:, 1858. P.R. 894 [white ink; RTS 6/7/2005].

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

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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