Bongo bow shaft

Bongo bow shaft

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Before 1874
Wood Plant
Carved , Stained , Polished
429.0 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
The accession book does not state the name of the collector, but the attribution of this item to the 'Dor' (= Bongo), and the fact that it was probably in Pitt Rivers' collection by 1874, makes it likely that it was amongst the material collected by John
Field Collector:
Probably John Petherick (see notes).
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Prior to 1874
Bow shaft carved from a wooden branch, stripped of its bark, stained a reddish brown colour and polished (Pantone 732C). Some of this surface colour has subsequently worn away. It has an oval section, and tapers to a point at both ends, one of which is more markedly tapered than the other. It has been bent into a slight, shallow curve, presumably by once being strung as a bow, although no bow string is now present, and there are no obvious markings from its bindings around the ends of the shaft. The shaft is complete, but has badly split along its length on the inside and outside edges. It has a weight of 429 grams and is 1509 mm long, with a diameter near the centre of 24 by 22.8 mm and at the broader end of 14.5 by 14 mm.

Although no field collector is indicated, the period in which this was acquired, and the group to which it belongs, makes it possible that it had come originally from John Petherick's collection of Bongo material, probably acquired by him in the Southern Sudan between 1856 and 1858, when he led three trading expeditions through Bongo territory, and shipped back to England in 1859. This was sold by him at auction in 1862 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 ). The auction included some 32 bows, of which 6 are said to be Bongo. Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874.

Petherick described the use of the bow and arrow by the Bongo (whom he called
the Dor) as follows: "... the favourite weapon of the Dor is the bow and arrow, with which they use three or four fearfully barbed spears, and clubs ... The workmanship of the arrows will bear inspection, when it will be found that 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. Occasionally some of these arrows are poisoned; this, however, with the Dor is but rarely the case, as they are also used in the chase. ... 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 Services Institution IV no. 13, p. 174 ff). See also J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, The Soudan and Central Africa, p. 400.

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.

Rachael Sparks 27/9/2005

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 29] - [insert] 1884.15 [end insert] WEAPONS BOWS [insert above left column] 3-figure nos refer to P.R. cat. of weapons [e nd insert] [insert] Duplicate 12 [end insert] Bow. DOR tribe, C. AFRICA ( 192 black ).
Additional Accession Book IV entry [p. 29] - 192 Black is from NW Coast of America
Black book entry [p. 8] - 192. Bow with quiver & 6 arrows. Owners' marks. & - W Coast of America. [insert] 1884.15.12 [end insert].
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes or objects catalogue card [RTS 7/4/2004].
Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan. BONGO tribe. Wooden bow shaft. Pitt Rivers Founding Collection. 1884.15.12 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 27/9/2005].
Written on object - D[O]R TRIBE CENT. AFRICA P.R. [white ink; the lower part of some of the letters is missing or worn]; [192?] black [black ink, very worn].

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

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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