Zande knife

Zande knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
Zande? [Bongo?]
Date Made:
?Before 1858
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Carved , Stained , Polished , Hammered , Twisted , Bound
L = 463 mm, W handle knob = 58 mm, Th handle knob = 55.6 mm, Max W blade = 57 mm, Max Th blade = 4.7 mm, Min Th blade = 0.2 mm [RTS 14/4/2004].
423.0 g
Other Owners:
Collected by John Petherick in 1858 and 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 186
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Knife consisting of a short, cylindrical knob handle, cut flat on top and slightly oval in plan view. This has a flat underside with a narrower cylindrical shaft continuing from the centre, turning out to a slightly offset shoulder with the handle becoming flatter from this point, with a lentoid section and concave sides. The handle has been carved from a single piece of wood, stained a dark reddish brown (Pantone black 4C) and then polished. A slot has been cut into the flat lentoid-shaped end to receive the knife tang. This has a rectangular section, and passes back through the centre of the handle, emerging at the centre of the top, where it has been hammered back into the wood to secure it. The lower part of the handle has been bound with a series of narrow iron strips, consisting of a single plain band; a short section of twisted banding; a wide section of plain banding; short twisted banding; short plain banding, narrower than the previous group, and then twisted banding again. Each section is made up of two or more strips, with the ends hammered into the wood to fix them in place. In addition to this, there are a series of short staples hammered vertically over the terminal bands at the top and bottom of this concave sided part of the handle. There is a further iron strip wound around the cylindrical handle shaft just above the shoulder. The lower body of the blade has a rounded shoulder where it joins the tang, then a narrow body with straight sides that tapers in towards the end, where there is a small spur projecting from the side, with the blade turning at right angles before continuing with a broad based curved blade that tapers to a sharp point. A broad flat rib runs down the centre of the blade from shoulder to tip, following the outer shape. This is thickest where the blade first changes direction, probably to strengthen the object. The curved part of the blade has been sharpened on both edges, leaving a slight bevel on either side. The edges and ribs have been polished, but tool marks are still visible on the rest of the surface. The knife is largely complete, although a short section of twisted iron wire has been lost from the handle and there is a small crack in the handle end. One length of iron banding is twisted at one end, and plain at the other, indicating that the decorative strips were made from the same basic starting material. The iron is currently a metallic grey colour (Pantone 423C). The knife has a length of 463 mm, the handle knob measures 58 by 55.6 mm, and the handle itself measures 21.5 by 18.7 mm at its narrowest point; the blade shoulder has a width of 29 mm, the maximum width of the blade is 57 mm, its maximum thickness 4.7 mm, while it measures 0.2 mm at its cutting edge. The wire strips have a width of 1 to 0.5 mm.

This object is said to have been collected in 1858; in that year Petherick led a trading expedition through Bongo territory, an account of which is given in his 1861 volume, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa; he refers to this group as the Dor. The expedition entered Bongo territory on January 25, 1858, visiting villages called Djau, Kurkur, Maeha, Mura, Umbura, Modocunga, Miha, Nearhe, Gutu, Mungela, Ombelambe and Lungo. Later in February they passed back through the Bongo villages of Djamaga and Lungo again. T his material was shipped back to England in 1859.

Although this object was attributed to the Bongo in the accession records, this may not be correct. Petherick illustrates either this knife or one very similar to it under the caption 'Neam Neam', and while no mention is made of the Bongo using curved blades, he describes the Zande using 'a peculiar, curved, double-edged sword', which may be related (J. & K. Petherick, 1869,
Travels in Central Africa Vol. I, p. 280-281; see also his sketchbook, Wellcome Library MS 5789, page 18). Moreover, the shape and style of the handle on this knife is comparable to Zande knife 1917.25.27, and other examples attributed to the Mangbetu, from whom the Zande may have borrowed the type. Either it was obtained from the Bongo but not made by them, or the attribution given to this knife is incorrect.

Much of the material from Petherick’s first period in the Sudan was sold at auction by Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27th June 1862, and Pitt Rivers probably acquired this object at that time (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 ). He sent this knife to Bethnal Green Museum for display, probably in 1874. No Bongo knives are specified in the auction catalogue, but there 5 Zande knives do appear. The item 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.

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [insert] 1994.25 [end insert] THROWING KNIVES & ALLIED CHOPPING KNIVES, BOOMERANGS [insert] 5 [end insert] - 180 - Curved chopping knife, scythe like blade bent at right-angles, with wooden reel-shaped handle. DOR, C. AFRICA. Petherick coll 1858 (133) (125 black).
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [p. 66a] - 180 [Drawing].
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.25.5 [end insert] 133. Chopping knife or sword [Drawing] DOR. 1858. (PR (180) black 125). [p. 197] [insert] BONGO is tribe's name for itself. They are called DOR by neighbours [end insert, by BB].
Black book entry [p. 6] - 125. Curved iron weapon [insert, ?drawing] (?) [end insert] used for throwing [insert] ? end insert]. Dor Tribe Central Africa. Obtained by Consul Petherick (180). [insert] 1884.25.5 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 204] - Development of boomerangs, Australian, African & Indian. [p. 206] Iron pick. White Nile. 180. Screen 6 [cases] 248 & 249.
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 6/4/2004].
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. 180. Iron PICK. Dor tribe of negroes, White Nile. Obtained by Consul Petherick in 1858. Used as a missile.
Written on object - DOR TRIBE, WHITE NILE. CENT. AFRICA. PETHERICK COLL. 1858. P.R. 180 [RTS 11/3/2004].

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP]. Former display label - DOR, C. AFRICA. Petherick coll, 1858. P.R. Coll... [Rectangular label, stored in RDF; RTS 11/3/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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