Zande or Mundu knife

Zande or Mundu knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
?Zande ?Mundu
Date Made:
?By 1858
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Hammered , Forged (Metal) , Carved , Incised , Punched , Stained
L = 430 mm, MxW blade 39.6 mm, Mx th blade 5.7 mm [RTS 10/3/2004]
Other Owners:
Collected by Petherick between 1857 and 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
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
1857 - 1858
Iron knife consisting of a wooden handle with roughly circular, flat end and spool-shaped body with convex sides and oval section; the sides flare out to a flatter handle guard, cut flat at the end and with a sub-rectangular section. A rectangular slot has been cut into this flat edge to receive the blade tang; the wood has split down one side of the handle from this point. The other end of this tang can be seen projecting from the centre of the handle top, where it has been bent over and hammered back into the wood to fix it in place. The original colour of the wood appears to be a light brown; this has been stained dark brown over its surface, possibly in imitation of ebony (Pantone Black 4C); the surface also seems to be polished. The blade itself is strongly curved. At the top of the rectangular sectioned tang is a short spur projecting to the side at right angles; this has a narrow rectangular body with flattened crescentic top. Above this, the blade has a thick, blunt back, with sides tapering in to a sharp concave cutting edge on the inside, creating a flattened triangular section. Part way along its length, the blade widens, with the inside edge following the same curve; there is a raised ridge down the centre of this section, but on the upper surface only; this part of the blade has two cutting edges, and tapers to a point at the other end. The blade is decorated on the upper surface only. This consists of a herringbone design that runs down the body of the spur, flanked by simple hatching along either edge. Short hatching also decorates the thick back of the lower blade, then running along the central ridge of the upper blade is a row of cross hatching; a short zigzag made of two parallel lines, and then extending to the blade tip, another row of cross hatching. Hammering marks may be seen on the blade surfaces. The iron is in good condition, and currently a silvery grey colour (Pantone 422C). The object is complete and intact, without any obvious signs of edge-wear damage. Total length 430 mm, length of handle 98 mm, diameter of handle top 46.8 x 45.7 mm, diameter of handle body 20x 18 mm, width across handle guard 46.9 mm; width of tang 13.8 mm, thickness of tang 5.4 mm; length of spur 25 mm, width of spur top 24.1 mm, thickness of spur 2.5 mm; maximum width of blade at upper end 39.6 mm, maximum width of blade at lower end 21.4 mm, thickness of blade back 5.7 mm, thickness of cutting edge 0.2 mm.

Petherick lived in Khartoum from 1853-1858, mounting several trading expeditions into the Sudanese interior during this period. In his fifth expedition, he entered Mundu territory for the first time, visiting the villages of Umbolea and Baer (note that Petherick calls the Mundo the 'Baer' in his 1861 publication, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa ). These objects were probably collected during this trip, as Petherick did not venture into this region again. Petherick's collection was shipped back to England in 1859. Much of this material was sold at auction by Mr Bullock of High Holborn, London, on 27th June 1862, and Pitt Rivers probably acquired it 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 ). This auction contained at least 5 Zande knives and 3 Mundu knives. Pitt Rivers had certainly acquired this object by 1868, where it appears in J.G. Wood’s The Natural History of Man. He 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.

Petherick illustrates several examples of this type of weapon, which he attributes to the Mundo; he states that they use it as a throwing weapon 'in the chase for killing antelopes, or even smaller game' (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 Volume IV no. 13, p. 176 and fig. 17). Wood describes this object as a Zande weapon used for hand to hand fighting; a cord could be tied to the spur at the base of the blade and passed over the wrist to prevent the owner losing his weapon (Wood 1868, p. 493). It is possible that Wood had confused his source information here, as Petherick states quite clearly that this type of blade was a projectile. On the other hand, comparable knives as well as longer, more sword-like versions of this shape are found amongst the Zande and Boa, and some authors have seen these as having derived from the throwing knife (W. Fischer and M.A. Zirngibl, 1978, African Weapons, p. 61; they call this type a 'sabre knife'; C. Spring, 1993, African Arms and Armour , p. 86; he calls these 'scimitars'). They may have been dual purpose blades.

Schweinfurth suggested that Mundo is the name given by the Bongo to the Zande (G. Schweinfurth, 1878,
The Heart of Africa Volume I, p. 274): “The fact is, that Mundo is the name ordinarily given by the Bongo to a small tribe calling itself Bubackur, which has contrived to wedge in its position between the borders of the Bongo and the Niam-niam. On the eastern limit the Bongo denote the Niam-niam themselves by this name of Mundo” (Schweinfurth 1878 p. 99). He goes on to state: “All the Niam-niam of whom I was able to make inquiries assured me that the natives of Mundo are a distinct people, differing from themselves both in habits and in dialect; their precise ethnographical position I could never determine, but I should presume that they approximate most nearly to their Mittoo neighbours on the north, and more especially to the Loobah and Abakah. This Mundo or Moodoo is not to be confused with the Mundo to the south of the Bongo, which Petherick reports that he visited in February 1858; it is the western enclave of the scattered Babuckur” (Schweinfurth 1878, volume II, p. 130).

This particular example is illustrated in J.G. Wood's
The Natural History of Man Volume I, 1868, p. 492 left.

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [insert] 1994.25 [end insert] THROWING KNIVES & ALLIED CHOPPING KNIVES, BOOMERANGS [insert] 6 [end insert] - 182 - Knife with long curved shank & long narrow triangular convex-edged blade, T-shaped spur on shank closed to the reel-shaped handle. MUNDO Tribe, WHITE NILE. Petherick. (?127 black).
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [p. 66a] - 182 [Drawing].
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.25.6 [end insert]. Long triangular knife [Drawing] W[HITE] NILE, MUNDO. (PR ?182, black? 127).
Black book entry [p. 7] - 127. Curved iron projectile of different form [from 1884.25.8]. Mundo Tribe. C. Africa (?182). [insert] 1884.25.6 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 204] - Development of boomerangs, Australian, African & Indian. [p. 206] Iron projectile, curved. White Nile. 182 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. 182. Curved iron projectile. Mundo Tribe, White Nile. Obtained by Petherick. A weapon of this form is represented in the Egyptian sculptures. Used also as a missile.
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [except the question mark before 127 black has been crossed out; RTS 1/6/2004].
Written on object -

Display History:
Displayed in Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP]. Former display label - MUNDO tribe, WHITE NILE, C. AFRICA. Petherick coll... P.R. coll... [rectangular label; stored in RDF; RTS 10/3/2004]

Publication History:
This particular example is illustrated in J.G. Wood's The Natural History of Man Volume I, 1868, p. 492 left. [AP]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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