Knife, probably Bongo

Knife, probably Bongo
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
?Gabon , ?Sudan
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Before 1874
Iron Metal
Hammered , Punched , Incised
L= 318 mm, W = 44.8 mm, th = 2.5 mm [RTS 10/3/2004]
Local Name:
[tibah] [tibbah]
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
Iron knife made in a single piece, and consisting of a flattened end with two points that have been curled over to form a double scroll, on a short rectangular sectioned body with a rectangular spur projecting at right angles below. The blade is lentoid in shape, with flat underside and slightly convex upper surface that thins to a cutting edge on either long side. The maximum width of the blade falls near its top end. The blade tapers in again to its lower end, which has a smaller double scroll as its terminal. The upper surface is decorated with a series of punched and incised short lines. This consists of single lines running parallel to the outer edges, and filled with linear cross hatching along the tapering sides of the blade at top and bottom. Two straight lines run parallel along the centre of the length, with a series of short lines punched at right angles across each line. The remainder of the motifs are arranged as rough mirrored images reflected across the centre, each made of a row of short punched lines. From top to bottom, these are: double arcs; two straight lines with a joining arc between; eight horizontal lines; thirty one wavy lines (but only twenty five on the opposite side); eight horizontal lines; vertical, parallel scalloped or wavy lines with a single horizontal line and arc below. In some cases, it looks as though an incised line was drawn on the surface first and used as a guide for the shorter, punched dashes. The design has a rough symmetry, but is not completely regular. The iron is in good condition, with a silvery gray coloured surface (Pantone 423C). Complete and intact; the centre of one long edge has been worn through use and is now slightly concave, and there is a small nick in the opposite edge. Total length 318 mm, width across top scroll 16.9 mm, maximum width of blade 44.8 mm, minimum width of blade just above point 4 mm, maximum thickness of blade 2.5 mm, thickness at cutting edge 0.2 mm.

Museum records give this knife a West African provenance,
probably on analogy with 1884.24.205 and 1884.24.207, which are said to be from Gabon. However this information may be incorrect. This knife is probably the same piece published in J.G. Wood's The Natural History of Man Volume I, 1868, p. 503 fig. 4, badly drawn; Wood states that this was made by the Jur of Sudan, which he seems to use as a general term for Central Sudanic speaking groups. Petherick, who may have been the collector in all cases, associated these knives with the Bongo (see 1884.63.28 and 1884.63.29). Schweinfurth calls this type of knife a tibah , and states that women use them to peel vegetables and slice up gourds (G. Schweinfurth, 1975, Artes Africanae, pl. IV.7,8; In the Heart of Africa, 1873, p. 281). See also E. Castelli, 1984, Orazio Antinori in Africa Centrale 1859-1861, cat. no. 26-29, pp 49-50, all attributed to the Bongo (Museum of Perugia 49525-8). A further example in the British Museum was collected in 1867; their attribution to the Zande is probably incorrect (Accession number 4460, E. Schildkrout & C.A. Keim, 1990, African Reflections, fig. 5.10).

The most likely origin for this object is from the Sudanese collection of John Petherick. Petherick is known to have auctioned 39 ‘womens knives’ in an auction 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 ), and Pitt Rivers is known to have purchased a number of items at this time.

This object was sent to the Bethnal Green Museum for display as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. It was later displayed at the South Kensington Museum, before being transferred to form part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Rachael Sparks 28/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 54] - [insert] 1884.24. Nos (3 & 4 figure) refer to P.R. (A.L.F.) printed cat. of weapons [end insert] SWORDS &C [p. 62] [insert] 205 [end insert]. (3180) - Woman's knife, leaf-shaped, covered with punched designs, with spur at one end & scrolled point. GABOON, W[EST] AFRICA.
Blue book entry [p. 12] - Ornamentation, Geometrical patterns. [p.13] C[ase] 70, 302-4. [insert] 1884.24.205, 206, 207 [end insert]. Knives, iron, women's, ornamented with linear designs and rows of punch marks (2887). [insert] W. Africa [end insert].
Additional Blue book entry [p. opposite 13] - 2887. (W.) Africa. (one) There are 2 more labelled Gaboon and numbered 3180 and 3189; ? = the other two here) [NB: do not recognize handwriting but likely to have been written by PRM staff].
Delivery Catalogue I entry [p. 108] - Seals Tools and various objects cont[inue]d. [insert] 1884.24.205 + 207 [end insert] 2 women's knives (Gaboon). Not no'd. [Case?] 15 [?Screen] 163.
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Woman's knife, GABOON, W. AFRICA. P.R. coll. (3180) [rectangular tag with metal edges, RTS 10/3/2004].

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

Publication History:
This knife is probably the same piece published in J.G. Wood's The Natural History of Man Volume I, 1868, p. 503 fig. 4, badly drawn [RTS 5/1/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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