Bongo knife

Bongo knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [White Nile]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1858
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Hammered , Forged (Metal) , Incised , Carved , Polished
L = 550 mm, Mx W blade = 80.3, th at cutting edge less than 0.1 mm [RTS 11/3/2004]
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:
Iron knife consisting of a reddish brown wooden handle with polished surface (Pantone 469C), with a flat, circular top, flaring in sharply to an oval sectioned body then out again to a flattened hand guard; the end of this guard is flat and has a long slot cut into it to receive the blade tang. There are traces of a dark gray material in this slot which may have been added to secure the tang. The other end of this tang can be seen projecting from the top of the handle, where it is off-centre; it has been bent over and hammered back into the wood to fix it in place. The surface of the wood has been gouged out below this to form a rectangular channel, probably to allow a cord to be attached. Similar knives sometimes have a cord loop tied from the spur to the handle end in this way, and are fitted over the wrist to stop the owner losing the weapon. There is a short section of tang above the handle guard, which has thick sides and a rectangular section; a lentoid hole has been cut down the centre of this section, and the edge decorated with short incised oblique lines on the upper surface only. Above this is the blade, which is sharpened to form cutting edges along both sides; this is curved, with a convex outer and concave inner edge. Near the base of the blade, on its inside edge, is a small spur projecting at right angles; this has a short rectangular body and small crescent-shaped top with a series of notches cut into its outer edge. Above this, the two sides of the blade taper in to form a point at the other end. The outer edge of the blade has a series of fine notches or teeth cut into it some 87 mm from the base of the blade; this continues to the centre of this edge, where a rectangular piece has been cut away, or lost; above this is further edge notching, with the blade widening slightly just above, some 171 mm from the point. The underside of the blade is flat, with hammering marks visible where the edge has been thinned, and where the spur has been forged onto the main blade. The upper surface has five grooves cut along the inner and outer edges; these meet each other near the tip of the blade.

This surface also has some incised decoration, consisting of a horizontal band across the blade width adjacent to the spur, with a loose net design made up of a series of lozenges, framed by parallel lines above and below. There is a second, more narrow band across the centre of the blade, made of a single row of lozenges framed by similar lines. The spur is also decorated by five grooved arcs that run across the surface to emphasise its shape. The knife is nearly complete; there is damage to one side of the handle end, with part of the wood missing, with some minor splits in the wood. The blade is in good condition, with some minor edge damage; this is currently a silvery gray colour (Pantone 422C), with a yellowish surface coating in some areas from a former conservation treatment. Total length 550 mm; length of handle 95.7 mm; dimensions of handle end 41.2 x 40.2 mm, handle body 25.5 x 19 mm, and width of handle guard 42.3 mm; width of tang above guard 35 mm, and thickness of tang 3.9 mm; length of spur 28 mm, width of spur end 27.8 mm and thickness 1.5 mm; maximum width of blade 80.3 mm, maximum thickness of blade 2.9 mm, thickness of blade at cutting edge less than 0.1 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. It was s ubsequently 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 ). It was sent to the Bethnal Green Museum for display by Pitt Rivers, probably in 1874, and later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, being transferred from there to become part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Similar knives are known among the Zande, where they are thought to have developed from the throwing knife (W. Fischer & M. A Zirngibl, 1978,
African Weapons, p. 84). For a similar example in Perugia, see E. Castelli, 1984, Orazio Antinori in Africa Centrale 1859-1861, cat. no. 109, said to be Nzakara (Museum of Perugia 49475). There is also a version with narrower blade and single edge for most of its length (see 1884.25.6 and 1905.68.10).

Illustrated by Pitt Rivers, 1874,
Catalogue of the Anthropological Collection lent by Colonel Lane Fox for Exhibition in the Bethnal Green Branch of the South Kensington Museum, June 1874, fig. 21.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [insert] 1994.25 [end insert] THROWING KNIVES & ALLIED CHOPPING KNIVES, BOOMERANGS [insert] 8 [end insert] - 181 - Curved chopping knife tapering to a point, with spur at base of the concave side (on the point), and shallow rectangular recess cut in the middle of cutting edge; surface of blade edged with long parallel incised lines outlining the blade contours: handle of wood with small knob terminal. DOR, C. AFRICA. Petherick coll. 1858. (?125 Black) [Insert over '?125'] 126 [end insert].
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [p. 66a] - 181 [Drawing].
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.25.8 [end insert]. Curved chopping knife [Drawing] DOR. 1858. (PR 181, 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. 7] - 126. Curved iron ?projectile, Mundo [insert] ? [drawing] ? Dor E.S.T. 6/26 [end insert] tribe. C. Africa. Consul Petherick ?18 2 1). [insert] 1884.25.8 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 204] - Development of boomerangs, Australian, African & Indian. [p. 206] Iron projectile. White Nile. 181 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. 181. Curved iron weapon, used for throwing. Dor Tribe, White Nile.Obtained by Petherick. Fig. 21.
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 6/4/2004].

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

Publication History:
This example was illustrated by Pitt Rivers in his 1874 catalogue as figure 21 [RTS 11/3/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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