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 = 323 mm, Max W = 47 mm, Max 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 consisting of a flat, circular head with a depression in the top that is probably a manufacturing flaw, on a short, round sectioned stem that widens at its base where it has been hammered flat. This then tapers out to form a lenticular blade with flat underside and slightly convex upper surface; this thins to a cutting edge on either long side. The blade tapers in again at the other end, where there is a bulbous, flattened terminal, with a narrow elongated point with ovoid section and a slightly splayed end with bevelled edges below. The upper surface of the blade is decorated with a series of incised motifs, made up of straight lines that were probably created using a metal chisel or punch. The flattened terminal areas at top and base of the blade are each decorated with two circular depressions, with two broad incised parallel grooves running down the centre of the blade between them. The tapering sides at the top of the blade is decorated with a line running parallel with the outer edge on either side, filled with closely spaced hatching. The body below is decorated by a vertical zigzag motif, made up of three groups of parallel oblique lines running in opposing directions, with short lines across the ends of each group; this design is reflected on either side of the central grooves. After this there are two bands of tightly spaced >-shaped chevrons, framed by parallel lines above and below, with a single arc at either end. The middle part of the blade is filled with three vertical lines on either side of the central grooves, with the space between filled with groups of oblique lines, arranged in opposing directions to form a series of zigzags. There are four horizontal bands of these zigzag groups, with the spaces between each group left as a blank lozenge or triangle. Below this, the patterns previously described are repeated as a mirror image, creating a symmetrically balanced design. The knife is complete and intact, with some wear evident along one edge. The iron is in good condition, with a silvery gray coloured surface (Pantone 877C). Total length 323 mm, diameter of handle 15.7 mm, diameter of shaft 5.2 mm, maximum width of blade 47 mm, minimum width of blade just above point 7 mm, maximum thickness of blade 2.5 mm, thickness at cutting edge 0.1 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. 3, 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] 206 [end insert] (2887) - Ditto [Woman's knife], leaf-shaped, pointed both ends, patterned with incised lines. 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. 15] - Illustrations of Geometrical Design cont[inue]d. [insert] 1884.24.206 + 63.28 + 29 [end insert]. 3 women's knives, 2887. [screen?] 11, Panel 17, case 18.
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Woman's knife, W. AFRICA. P.R. coll. (2887) [rectangular tag with metal edge]. W. AFRICA, X, 43, PR [rectangular paper label with metal eyelet]. WOMAN'S KNIFE, AFRICA , ornamented with incised lines [rectangular paper label, no eyelet. All labels still attached to object, RTS 20/2/2004].

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. 3, badly drawn. [AP]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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