Zande throwing knife

Zande throwing knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Sudan , Congo, Democratic Republic of
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1858?
Iron Metal
L = 427 mm, W handle = 23.3 mm, th handle = 1.4 mm, W stem = 30 mm, th cutting edge = 0.2 mm [RTS 9/3/2004]
Other Owners:
Probably collected by John Petherick in 1858, and shipped back to England the following year. Acquired by Pitt Rivers, who sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This objec
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Iron throwing knife with a narrow rectangular plate tang, cut with a straight end with two short notches in it, and featuring a series of short barbs running down either side, formed by hitting the metal along the edges with a tool such as a chisel in a series of short blows. These barbs are on the upper surface on one side of the tang, and on the lower surface of the opposite edge. They were probably designed to help keep a handle binding in place, although no binding is now present. This may have been lost at some time before the object came into the Pitt Rivers Museum collection; alternatively, this object may have been purchased in an unfinished state. The barbs run up the tang as far as the junction of body and lower, angled blade. The central stem continues above this, and has a triangular section with thick back and sharpened cutting edge opposite; the surface of this blade is bevelled on either side. The back of this stem is slightly convex. Three blades are angled away from the central stem and were probably separate pieces that have been forged onto the main body section. The lowest of these projects at an acute angle from the body just above the barbed tang. It has very slightly concave sides, that become convex before tapering in to the point. The outer edge thickens at its base, where there is a sharp angle, that turns back to the body and has not been sharpened; many other examples have a projecting spur at this point. A second blade projects at right angles from the end of the stem on the opposite side. This has one nearly straight edge, a pointed tip, then a convex edge opposite that tapers back in to the junction with the third blade, which has a broad triangular base or tang projecting out from the top of the central stem, narrowing to a broad based, flat shouldered triangular body with rounded tip. The edges of all three blades have been hammered to form a broad bevel on upper and lower surfaces, leading down to a sharp cutting edge. The underside of the knife is otherwise flat, with a slight raised area at the junction of triangular top blade and its base - the result of tongue welding. The object is complete and intact, with no obvious nicks in the cutting edges to suggest that this knife had seen much use. The iron is a silvery grey colour (Pantone 420C to 421C). Length 427 mm, width of handle 23.3 mm, thickness of handle 1.4 mm, width of central stem 30 mm, thickness of central stem 3.5 mm; length of lower blade 149 mm, width of lower blade 34.3 mm; length of second blade 218 mm, width of second blade 54 mm; length of third blade 120 mm; width across shoulders of third blade 93.5 mm; thickness at cutting edge 0.2 mm.

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 5 throwing knives or projectile weapons, attributed variously to the Zande, Murle and Mundu. 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.

This object represents the southern type of throwing knife, which is found in northern Gabon, and from eastern Cameroon almost to the White Nile; it was used by the Zande and by groups who fell under their influence, including the Adio, Bongo and Kreish. This specific variety, which corresponds to Westerdijk's type SP VII.1, is found in the regions inhabited by the latter three groups (P. Westerdijk 1988, The African Throwing Knife, p. 189-90). The knives could be hung from a disc on the back of the shield (C. Spring, African Arms and Armour, pp 69-70; 79-80). In Petherick's discussions of the Zande, whom he encountered in 1858, they were described as carrying two or three throwing knives at a time in this way; he gives the Zande term for this weapon (a 'trombash') as gangoo (Petherick 1861, Egypt, the Sudan and Central Africa, p. 469, p. 481). He also describes their use: 'The iron weapon, when employed, is thrown with great force, and in such a manner as to revolve upon its centre when spinning through the air' (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. 176).

Currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 82B number 2.

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 66] - [insert] 1884.25 [end insert] THROWING KNIVES & allied CHOPPING KNIVES. BOOMERANGS . [insert] 2 [end insert] 185 - Similar weapon [to 1884.25.1, 'Throwing-knife with scythe-like blade'], with triangular arrow-like top ? ibid . [?AZANDE] ibid . [C. AFRICA] Petherick coll (?130 black).
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [page opposite 66] - [Drawing] 185.
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 195] - 1884.25.2 Throwing knife [Drawing] C.AFRICA ?AZANDE (PR (185) black ?130).
Black book entry [p. 7] - 128-30. Iron boomerangs. Central Africa. (183-?185) [insert] 1884.25.1, 2, 3 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 204] - Development of boomerangs, Australian, African & Indian. [p. 206] - Iron projectile. White Nile. 185. Screen 6 [cases] 248 & 249.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874)
[p. 31] - Nos 180 to 186, Fig. 22, are iron implements called Hunga Munga by the negro tribes south of Lake Tchad; " danisco" by the Marghi, " goleyo" by the Musgu, and " njiga" by the Bagirmi; showing that the names for these weapons vary as much in Africa as in Australia, where nearly every tribe has a different name for the boomerang [footnote about material art and language]. These African iron weapons are thrown [p. 32] with a rotatory motion, and inflict bad wounds with their projecting blades: they vary constantly in form, as may be seen by the specimens here exhibited, and their use extends across Africa from the Upper Nile on the east through Central Africa by Lake Tchad to the negroes of the Gaboon in West Africa. Here also as in parts of Central Africa, these weapons assume the form of a bird's head, as is shown in the specimens from these regions, Nos 187 and 188, Figs 23 and 24, where the triangular opening in the blade represents the eye of the bird. This practise of adopting the forms of birds and animals' heads when the resemblance is suggested by any of the varieties through which a weapon passes, is one to which we shall have to draw attention in describing the war weapons from other localities. [p. 33] SCREEN 6. [p. 36] MODERN AFRICAN IRON BOOMERANGS. 183 to 185. Iron projectile called Hunga Munga, in Central Africa, showing varieties of form, but identical in principle. Obtained by Petherick from the White Nile. Fig. 22.
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 3/2/2004].
Written on object - ?AZANDE [black ink]. WHITE NILE, CENT. AFRICA. PETHERICK COLL. P.R. 185 [white ink] [RTS 9/3/2004].

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

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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