Murle [Djibba] axe

Murle  [Djibba] axe
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] ?Upper Nile ?Jonglei
Cultural Group:
Murle [Djibba]
Date Made:
?Before 1874
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Carved , Hammered , Wound , Stained , Polished
L = 860 mm, W handle = 22.4 mm, W blade = 72.5 mm
Other Owners:
Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This object was listed in the Delivery Catalogue as having been transferred from South Kensington Museum in 1884.
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
?Prior to 1874
Axe consisting of a wooden handle, forked at the top, with a slightly oval sectioned shaft below ending in a flat butt. The wood has been stained a reddish brown colour (Pantone 4625C) and then polished. The forked ends are covered with two long iron finials, each made from a sheet of metal rolled into a cylinder with the seam on its inner face. These have narrow tapered ends, with the tips curled over. A rectangular slot has been cut through the width of the body just below the fork, and the tang of an iron blade pushed through, wrapped once around the side of the handle, then pushed back into the wood. Several narrow pieces of iron have been packed into the space around the tang to make it fit securely. The axe blade is sub rectangular in shape, with roughly parallel sides and a slightly convex, chamfered end. It has a thickened mid rib running down the centre of the length on both faces and cutting edges running around all three sides. The handle is decorated with two long narrow strips of iron, wound around the shaft, with a 90 mm gap between them. The ends of these strips have been bent and hammered into narrow slots in the wood to secure them, except for the bottom of the lower strip which has been fastened in place with a flat headed nail. The object is complete and in good condition. Length 860 mm, width of handle 22.4 mm, thickness of handle 20 mm, length of blade 12.5 mm, width of blade 72.5 mm, thickness of blade 0.1 mm, diameter of finial socket 19.5 mm, and width of decorative strip 6 mm.

The original collector for this object has not been specified, although its association
with the Djibba make John Petherick the most likely source, in which case it could well have been obtained by Pitt Rivers at the 1862 auction of Petherick’s material, or at another auction held sometime on his second return from the Sudan in 1865 . It was sent to the Bethnal Green Museum for display by Pitt Rivers, probably in 1874, and later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, being transferred from there to become part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Petherick locates the Djibba somewhere along the Sobat River or the tributaries running into it from the east, which suggests a location in either the administrative districts of either Upper Nile or Jonglei, or across the border into modern Ethiopia (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Sudan and Central Africa, Map; note that the geographical coordinates given for this group in his 1860 article seem to be inaccurate). Ajibba is the Anuak name for this group, who are also known as the Murle (B.A. Lewis 1972, The Murle , 2).

This does not appear to be a common type of object. Murle women are recorded as carrying forked sticks, around 4 foot long and often decorated with carving (Logan 1918, "The Beirs",
Sudan Notes and Records 1, 242), and it is possible that this is a [male?] object in similar style, although shorter. Forked poles are also found amongst the Anuak, where they are placed outside the houses of village headmen and nobles as spear-rests and a sign of their status (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Political System of the Anuak, pp 40, 57). However the shaft of this object is rather short, making it less likely to have functioned as a spear rest. Forked iron rods also appear as insignia of Ya'qubab 'holy men' of the Sennar district, where they appear at festivals with other relics and are stuck in the ground with the fork at the top (A.J. Arkell, 1938, "Stools, Spears, Forked Iron Rods, Tridents and Bow-stands", Man 38, p. 31).

Note also that a stick with forked top and sideways mounded axehead below is illustrated by Marno, where it is attributed to the Bari; this appears much simpler in form (E. Marno, 1878,
Reile in der Egyptilchen Aequatorial Provinz und in Kordofan in den Jahren 1874-1876, p. 112 figure no. 6).

Illustrated in J.G. Wood, 1868,
The Natural History of Man Volume I, p. 519 with the caption ‘battle axe’.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 50] - 1884.21 AXES HALBERDS [insert] 25 [end insert] - 930 - Axe with short semi-oval blade tanged transversely & clinched round shaft at the base of 2 long iron-covered points (said to be for blinding). JIBBA. WHITE NILE.
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [page opposite 50] - [Drawing - annotated iron band].
Black book entry [p. 29] - Specimens illustrating the origin of War axes. [p. 30] - S[creen] 34. 863. Axe with horns [insert] Djibba Tribe [end insert], White Nile. C. Africa (930). [insert] 1884.21.25 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 196] - Specimens illustrating the adaption of iron spear points & axes to the heads of clubs. Australia etc . [...] Axe, with 2 iron prongs & head. White Nile. 930. 863. Screen 34 [cases] 238 & 239.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) [p. 139] Nos 927 to 932 and 933 to 945 are various kinds of African axes; being a miscellaneous collection from different parts of Africa, in which the varieties of each form are wanting; they will hardly repay the trouble of a description. In nearly all the club-shaped form of the handle is retained. [p. 144] SCREEN 34. OBJECTS ILLUSTRATING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AXE, HALBARD, GLAIVE, AND OTHER COGNATE WEAPONS. [p. 145] 930. AXE of the Djibba negroes. The haft above the blade divides into two prongs shod with iron; the prongs are said to be used for gouging out the eyes of the enemy. White Nile [p. 145]
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 7/4/2004].
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - 930 . Axe of the Djibba negroes. The haft above the blade divides into two prongs shod with iron; the prongs are said to be for gouging out the eyes of the enemy. White Nile [rectangular tag with metal eyelet]. 863 [faint blue pencil on back of tag; RTS 17/3/2004].
Written on object -
CENTRAL AFRICA [ink at base of fork], Axe forked at end for blinding an enemy. DJIBBA, WHITE NILE, P.R. Coll. (930) [ink, lower handle; RTS 17/3/2004].

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

Publication History:
This object is illustrated by J.G. Wood in his 1868 volume, The Natural History of Man Volume I, p. 519 'battle axe'. [AP]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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