Bongo bow

Bongo bow
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1858
Wood Plant , Animal Sinew
Carved , Twisted , Bound
L = 1538 mm; W bow shaft 22.5 mm, W bow string 3.2 mm [RTS 20/2/2004]
Local Name:
Other Owners:
John Petherick led three separate trading expeditions that passed through Bongo territory between 1856 and 1858; this object must have been collected during that period, and shipped back to England in 1859 (See J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, The Sudan and Cen
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
1856 - 1858
Wooden bow made from a long piece of wood, tapering to either end, and irregularly round to oval in section throughout; there is a knot in the wood causing a slight kink about two thirds along the body. The wood has been smoothed and polished; it is a warm reddish brown in colour (Pantone 469C). Sinew has been wound around the bow shaft, 170 mm from one end and 125 mm from the other end, to form two slightly raised bands around the shaft that are used to help locate the bow string, which is tied around the body at these two points. The sinew bands have a row of knots projecting from their flat surface. The bow has been strung with a single piece of thick cord, made from twisted sinew; this has caused the two ends of the shaft to bend inwards. One end of this cord has been split to form an opening; the other end of the cord has then been bent into a loop and passed through this opening, with the resulting noose slipped over the end of the bow and pulled tight to secure it. The bow string is fastened at the other end of the bow by looping it over the shaft twice, winding it around the end of the bow string, then bringing the end of the cord back over the bow shaft above the noose and winding it several times around the shaft before tying it off with a knot at the top. The string is a light brown colour in some areas (Pantone 465C), but mostly has a greasy, black surface. Complete and intact, with minor cracks in the wood near either end. Length (when strung) 1538 mm, width of shaft at centre 22.5 mm, thickness of shaft at centre 21 mm, diameter of bow string (taut area) 3.2 mm, diameter of cord wound around shaft 4.4 mm.

John Petherick led three separate trading expeditions that passed through Bongo territory between 1856 and 1858; this object must have been collected during that period, and shipped back to England in 1859 (See J. Petherick, 1861,
Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa for more details of these expeditions). Pitt Rivers subsequently acquired the bow, probably at an auction 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). 32 bows were auctioned by him at that time, including at least 6 Bongo examples (the latter as part of lot numbers 8, 18, 19, 53 and 59). Pitt Rivers later sent this object for display in the Bethnal Green Museum and the South Kensington Museum.

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 ). Petherick wrote of them that: "... the favourite weapon of the Dor is the bow and arrow ... with which they use three or four fearfully barbed spears ... and clubs", and that they rarely poisoned their arrowheads as they were also used in hunting. "The tactics of the Dor when giving battle are to run up to within fifty or sixty yards of the enemy and discharge a quantity of arrows at him and, if not successful, to undertake as rapid a retreat: when followed, and approached, they receive a similar flight of arrows, which, after endeavouring to evade by a series of gymnastics, as soon as they are spent, they repeat the charge, and so on, until on one side or the other so many arrows have taken effect as to impede the rapid movements of a certain number of the party, which is taken advantage of by a hot pursuit: then, when encumbered by the arrows, the men that have been so hit, unable to extract them and accompany their unscathed companions, drop behind, and thus become the objects at whom to throw barbed lances" (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, vol IV, no 13 , pp 174-5). Petherick gives the 'Dor' name for a bow as hunyu (Petherick 1861, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa, p. 482). It is not known if this term refers to a specific type of bow or not.

Wood adds the following: "The bow exhibits a mode of construction which is very common in this part of Africa, and which must interfere greatly with the power of the weapon. The string does not extend to the tips of the bow, so that eighteen inches or so of the weapon are wasted, and the elasticity impaired" (J.G. Wood,
The Natural History of Man Volume I, p. 494-5; he illustrates one such bow on p. 494 figure 1, but it is not clear if this is the example in the Pitt Rivers Museum or another one).

Currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 14A.

Rachael Sparks 29/8/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 32] [insert] 1884.15 (cont.) [end insert] WEAPONS BOWS (cont.) ARCHER'S GUARDS & RINGS [insert] 101 [end insert] - 241 - Bow of knotty wood straight with out-curved ends & black (?sinew) cord. DOR, C. AFRICA. Petherick coll.
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [page opposite 32] - 1884.15.101 Number given A.P. L[ength] = 1580 mm. [Red biro] A19 F12 10+11 [drawing].
Black book entry [8] - 173-5. Bows (3). Dor Tribe. Central Africa. Co[sul] Petherick (241). [Insert] 1884.15.101-103 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 199] - Plain bows Asiatic and Pacific Isles [p. 200] - Wood bow & string. C. Africa. 241. Screen 8 [cases?] 240 & 241.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) [p. 45] - ... their neighbours of Karague use a bow 6 feet 3 inches long, bent only at the ends, like those of the Egyptian sculptures. Those of the Dor tribe of the White Nile, Nos 240 to 242, are of exactly the same form ... [p. 57] SCREEN 8. PLAIN BOWS. [p. 58] AFRICA. 240 to 242. Three bows bent at the ends only, like the Ancient Egyptian. Dor tribe, Central Africa. Obtained by Petherick.
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes or objects catalogue card [RTS 7/4/2004].
Written on object - DOR TRIBE, CENT. AFRICA. OBTD BY PETHERICK. P.R. 241 [white ink] 1884.15.101 [black ink, in a different hand; RTS 20/2/2004].

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP]. Current display label - SUDAN; BONGO (DOR). Bow of rough doubly convex shape. Extra length on the string is wound back around string and stave. Collected by J. Petherick. Original Pitt Rivers Collection, 1884.15.101 [in case U.14.A; RTS 2/2/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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