Zande throwing knife

Zande throwing knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1858?
Iron Metal , Plant Fibre
Hammered , Bound
L = 471 mm, W stem = 27.8 mm, W handle 29.3 mm, th handle 10 mm, th cutting edge 0.1 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 consisting of a rectangular plate tang. This has been covered with a binding made of twisted plant fibre, tightly interwoven to form a solid, padded grip; this grip stops just before the end of the tang, which has a small spur projecting from its base. The binding has a glossy, dark brown surface (Pantone 440C), and may have been coated to harden or secure it. The grip extends up the knife, to the point where the lower angled blade joins the body. The tang continues to form the narrow central stem or body of the knife, which now has a triangular section with thick back and sharpened cutting edge opposite. The back of this stem is very slightly convex. Three additional blades are angled away from this central stem, and were probably separate pieces that have been forged into place. The lowest of these projects at an acute angle from the body just above the grip. The inner edge of the blade is concave, with the blade tapering to a sharp point at the end, then convex on the other side where the blade widens until it reaches a rounded projecting spur. This blade has a cutting edge on all sides, except just below the base spur. A second blade projects at right angles from the stem; this has a complex profile, with an angular point at the base and a short curved stem that widens into a broad based blade with rounded shoulders and concave sides narrowing to a broad rounded tip. A third, shorter blade continues from the end of the central stem; this also has an angular point at its base on one side, then narrows to the junction with a heart-shaped end with rounded shoulders and rounded tip. The surfaces of both these blades are hammered to form sharp cutting edges around all sides. The underside of the knife is largely flat, but there are two slight, short raised ribs at the base of the two upper blades on this surface. The object is complete and intact. There are no obvious nicks in the cutting edges to suggest that this blade had seen a great deal of use, although the sharp tip of the lower blade has been pushed out of shape. The iron is a silvery grey colour (Pantone 422C). Length 471 mm, width of handle 29.3 mm, thickness of handle 10 mm, width of central stem 27.8 mm, thickness of central stem 3 mm; length of lower blade 180 mm, width of lower blade 31.3 mm; length of second blade 223 mm, width across shoulders of second blade 88 mm; length of third blade 125 mm; width across shoulders of third blade 62.7 mm; thickness at cutting edge 0.1 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.7, is found in the regions inhabited by the latter three groups (P. Westerdijk 1988, The African Throwing Knife, p. 192). 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 1.

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] 3 [end insert] 184- Throwing knife with tongue-ended cordiform blade & cordiform top. ? ibid . [?AZANDE] ibid . [C. AFRICA] ditto [Petherick coll] (129 black).
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [page opposite 66] - [drawing] 184.
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.25.3 [end insert] ditto [Throwing knife] [Drawing] ditto [C[ENTRAL]. AFRICA ?AZANDE] (PR (184) black 129).
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. 184. 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. 184 [white ink; RTS 8/3/2004].

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

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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