Zande spear

Zande spear
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1865
Iron Metal , Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Brass Metal
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Carved Stained , Covered , Bound , Decorated Incised
Total L = 2162; spearhead L (visible) = 320; blade L = 161 (including barbs), W = 33.3, th = 6.7; upper shank W = 9.3, th = 11.5, barbed lower shank W = 26.3, th = 9.5; sheath L = 118; max diam = 36.5 x 35.5; shaft diam = 8 x 7.5; iron binding L (upper) =
495.5 g
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
Collected Date:
Spear consisting of an iron spear-head with rounded tip and narrow blade, gradually expanding to its base, which ends in two long downwards pointing barbs, with the tip of one broken off. The centre of the blade has a rounded raised midrib along its length on both faces, that merges with the solid oval sectioned shank below. This thickens into a decorative detail made of 3 lozenge-shaped sections, followed by 2 long curved downwards pointing barbs, a straight section of shank, before becoming rectangular. Here a series of long pointed barbs have been chiselled away from the long edges of both faces, pointing down and outwards on one edge, and upwards along the other. The base of the spear-head then disappears, as a hide sheath masks its junction with the wooden shaft. The spear-head has also been covered with incised decoration, some of which has worn partially away. There are minor variations, but it is all linear in style and very similar on the front and back face. It consists of a double zigzag, that runs down the midrib of the blade, while the concave base of the blade has either a row of hatching or small crosses running along the edge. The lozenge-shaped areas of the shaft have been decorated - the top section with a single circular depression at its centre, framed by straight lines making a diamond shape, and the 2 sections below with a pair of circular depressions at either side, with the double zigzag continuing down the line of the shank between, and hatching running along the outer edges. This hatching also appears on the sides of this section. The zigzag then continues down the next plain area of shank, while the shoulders of the large barbs at this point are covered with oblique lines or incised crosses. The iron is still a metallic grey colour, pale grey where polished (Pantone 420C).

Immediately below the spear-head, there is a cylindrical sheath, cut from a section of animal's tail and with some buff hair preserved on the surface (Pantone 7507C). This has been shrunken to fit over the join between the point and shaft, and swells out near the top, perhaps covering some other form of binding. The sheath has been cut and folded around its upper edge, to fit snugly around the barbed shank. The sheath narrows to the width of the wooden shaft below. The shaft has been carved from a tree branch, and has some knots and irregularities down its length as a result; it has been stained an orangey brown colour (Pantone 730C), now lost in some areas. Immediately below the hide sheath, several narrow strips of iron have been wound around the shaft body, with their ends turned inwards and hammered into the wood to hold them firm. There is also a small brass staple hammered over the lower end of this. There is a much thicker band of iron also wound around the spear butt to prevent wear on the end of the shaft. The spear is essentially complete, but has a few cracks down the shaft body. It has a weight of 495.5 grams, and a total length of 2162 mm. The visible part of the spear-head is 320 mm long, with a blade length including the barbs of 161 mm. The blade is 33.3 mm wide and 6.7 mm thick; the upper shank is 9.3 mm wide and 11.5 mm thick, while the barbed lower part is 26.3 mm wide and 9.5 mm thick. The sheath is 118 mm long and has a maximum diameter of 36.5 by 35.5 mm, while the diameter of the shaft is 8 by 7.5 mm. The upper section of iron binding covers an area 32 mm long; the strips are 3 mm wide, while the lower binding is 32 mm long, and made from a strip 15 mm in width.

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 6 Zande spears, 5 of which are said to have been barbed. Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, probably in 1874. It was later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, and then transferred from there to become part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Petherick publishes a similar spearhead in his 1861 article, "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, fig. 14 left; and again in J. & K. Petherick, 1869, Travels in Central Africa Volume I, p. 227, far left. This may be the actual item in question, but if so, it has been inaccurately drawn. Petherick describes it in his section on the Dor, who are more properly known as the Bongo: "... the favourite weapon of the Dor is the bow and arrow... with which they use three or fur fearfully barbed spears (figs 14)..." (op.cit. p. 174), and again, when discussing the Zande: "His arms consist of the smooth and barbed lance (figs 10, 14) ...[the shield] which, and a couple of lances, he grasps with his left hand, whilst with a lance in his right hand, he assails his enemy..." (op.cit., p. 176). The original of this image appears in Petherick's unpublished sketchbook, on a page of images whose caption also attributes them to the Bongo (Wellcome Library MS 5789, p. 12). Petherick elsewhere gives the Zande word for a lance as baasoo (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Soudan and Central Africa, p. 481).

While museum records state that this type of spear came from the Zande, the style of it does appear to be more consistent with Bongo work, and it seems likely that it was at least manufactured by them. For similar Bongo spears, see G. Schweinfurth, 1875,
Artes Africanae, pl. VII, figures 5-8 in particular. Schweinfurth gives the name of examples with those with heavily barbed rectangular shanks as makrigga , the name of a local thorny shrub; they often make use of barbs pointing in opposing directions, as also seen on this example. He also gives the name of another variant as golloh, which has single long curved barbs on the shank (ibid.).

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 37] [insert] 1884.19 3-figure nos refer to P.R. (A.L.F.) printed cat. of weapons [end insert] WEAPONS SPEARS DARTS [p. 41, insert] 157 [end insert] - 762 - Multibarbed spear. AZANDE ('NIAM NIAM), WHITE NILE, Petherick coll. ?74 (682 black).
Additional Accession Book Entry [page opposite 41] - 1884.19.157 No given MdeA 13/9/2000.
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [...] [insert] 1884.19.157 [end insert]. ? (74). Spear, multibarbed, Niam Niam, White Nile, E[ast] Cent[ral] Africa. P.R. 762.
Black book entry [p. 24] - S[creen] 30. 682. Lance. Neam-nam [sic] tribe, White Nile. Iron pointed, multi-barbed. Used with the reed shield cat. no. 68 and the iron boomerangs nos 183 and 184. Obtd by Con[su]l Petherick (762). [Note that these cat. nos are the numbers in brackets at the end of the black book entries; cat. 68 = 1884.30.33; cat. 183 = 1884.25.1, cat. 184 = 1884.25.3; RTS 4/12/2003].
Delivery Catalogue I entry [p. 147] - Iron headed spears from different parts of Africa. [p. 148] d[itto]o [Spear, iron] multibarbed d[itt]o [wood handle] White Nile 762. 682. Screen 70, [cases] 198 & 199.
Card Catalogue Entry - AFRICA, WHITE NILE, AZANDE (NIAM NIAM) 762/682 black/Petherick ?74/ multi-barbed spear. [stamped] original Pitt Rivers Coll.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874)
[p. 91] In other parts of Africa iron is used [for arrow tips and foreshafts], but it is frequently formed into a long fore-shaft, evidently in imitation of those of wood. Nos 688, 689, from the White Nile, the Neam Nam lance, No 762. [p. 116] - SCREEN 30. AFRICAN IRON-HEADED SPEARS. [p. 117] 762. Multi-barbed spear with long iron barbs. Neam-nam tribe, White Nile, used with the reed shield, no. 68 [1884.30.33] and the iron boomerangs, Nos 183, 184 [1884.25.1 and 3]. Obtained by Consul Petherick.
Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan. Zande tribe. Multibarbed iron spear on wooden shaft. Coll. John Petherick. Pitt Rivers Founding coll. 1884.19.157 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 12/7/2005].
Written on object - NIAM NIAM, WHITE NILE. Col. by Consul Petherick. (v[ide]. United Services j[ou]rn[a]l. vol. ii [sic - should be IV] no xiii, fig. 14 & Petherick: Trav[els in].C[entral].A[frica]. [volume] I p. 227). P.R. coll. (762) (old coll. (74)) [RTS 12/7/2005].

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A). Loaned to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London for the exhibition Inventing New Britain: The Victorian Vision, from 5 April to 29 July 2001. [JC 5/7/2000 and 20/3/2001].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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