Dinka parrying shield

Dinka parrying shield

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1865
Wood Plant
Carved , Stained , Decorated , Incised
L = 1197, max W = 22.5, max th = 21.5; width where ends curve round = 17.2, th = 12 mm [RTS 8/7/2005].
355.8 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Collected in Sudan by John Petherick, sometime between 1853 and 1859, or 1861 to 1865. Subsequently acquired by Pitt Rivers by 1868, perhaps via auction as Petherick is known to have auctioned some of his collection through Mr Bullock of High Holborn, Lon
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
1853 - 1859 or 1861 - 1865
Parry shield carved from a single piece of wood that tapers to a point at either end. The central part of the shaft is largely straight, with an oval section that becomes flat at the ends; each end has been bent inwards and down, giving the shield a bow-like shape. Descriptions of this type of object suggest there may have been cord stretched between the ends (not preserved in this instance, with no sign of where it might have been attached), although it always functioned as a shield rather than an actual bow, despite visual similarities to the latter. A shallow zigzag has been incised into the inside face of the object for around one third of its length, then the surface of the wood was been stained a dark reddish brown colour (Pantone 4695C). The object is complete and intact, and has a weight of 355.8 grams. It is 1197 mm long, with a maximum width of 22.5 mm and thickness of 21.5 mm; this changes to around 17.2 by 12 mm at the point where the ends begin to curve around.

Collected in Sudan by John Petherick, sometime between 1853 and 1859, or 1861 to 1865; although the catalogue card does give a more specific date of 1858, this is the only source for that information and is probably not to be trusted. Petherick was based in Khartoum between 1853 and March 1859, during which period he mounted five trading expeditions into Southern Sudan, travelling down the Bahr el Abiad, Sobat, Bahr el Ghazal, Jur and Bahr el Jebel rivers. He encountered at least two main groups of Dinka during this period; one group in the area east of the Bahr el Abiad and north of the Sobat river – where Petherick established a trading station – and another group, whom he calls the ‘Raik’, around the Bahr el Ghazal/Jur rivers. Material could have been collected from either source, and shipped to England with his other collections in 1859. Petherick returned to the Southern Sudan in 1861, and mounted another expedition down the Bahr el Jebel, then overland to Gondokoro. Although he does not mention Dinka by that name, it is possible that the Kytch, whom he had dealings with, were from this group (Cic Dinka?). If further material was obtained during this period, it would have been shipped back to England in 1865. The shield was subsequently acquired by Pitt Rivers by 1868, 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 ). Pitt Rivers sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. This object was listed in the Delivery Catalogue as having been transferred from South Kensington Museum in 1884.

Petherick states that the Dinka and 'the people bordering on the Bahr el Ghazal who are related to them: "... carry an instrument like a bow ... for the purpose of warding off projectiles and which, with the club and a lance or two are grasped in the left hand whilst throwing a lance with the right" (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. 174, figure 23). The Pitt Rivers example is not the piece actually illustrated by Petherick, which appears to have some kind of binding; that example also appears in his unpublished sketchbook on p. 8, on a page captioned 'Dinka and Shillook'. This may be the source of the hand-written marking on the Pitt Rivers example, implying perhaps that it was written there by Petherick himself.

Schweinfurth describes a similar item, strung like a bow with fibres stretched between the ends to block an attack, known locally as a
dang (Schweinfurth 1873, Heart of Africa vol. I, p. 155-6; Artes Africanae , 1875, pl. I no. 16). Dang (plural deng) is a Dinka word meaning bow and has been applied to other bow-shaped objects as well (D.G. Beltrame 1880, Grammatica e Vocabolario della lingua Denka, p. 190 gives definition as 'arco, schioppo, lancia). There are 2 similar objects that have been attributed either to the Dinka or the Nuer that entered the collections of the Museum für Völkekunde at Leipzig in 1878 and 1881 (Maf 1474 and 8011; I would like to thank Dr Giselher Blesse of the Leipzig Museum für Völkekunde for providing me with these details). This type of parry shield was probably the prototype of the ritual dang used by Nuer prophets and in Nuer marriage ceremonies (see 1928.67.3 and 1931.66.33).

Rachael Sparks 1/8/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book IV entry [p. 78] [insert] 1884.30 Nos refer to printed cat. of weapons (L.F.) (2-figure Nos) [end insert] DEFENCE SHIELDS [insert] 21 [end insert] - 61 - Parrying-stick in the form of a straight-fronted bow. DINKA, WHITE NILE. Petherick coll. (18 black).
Additional Accession Book IV Entry [p. opposite 78] - 1884.30.21 No given AP [Drawing].
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.30.21 [end insert]. Bow-shaped parrying stick [Drawing] DINKA (PR 18, black (61)).
Black book entry [p. 1] - S[creen] 2. 18. Bow shaped parrying shield. Dinka. East Central Africa. Obtd by Consul Petherick (61). [insert] 1884.30.21 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 255] - Shields from different localities. Bow shaped parrying shield. Australia. 61. Upper Screen 3 [cases] 294 & 295 [Note that the provenance is different, although the description similar. This may just be an error, either in assigning the PRM number to this record, or in copying the provenance from an earlier entry; RTS 28/11/2003].
Card Catalogue entry - ALF 61. East Africa, White Nile, Dinka. 61 = 18 black. Parrying stick in the form of a straight-fronted bow. Petherick coll. 1858. Original Pitt Rivers collection.
Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) [p. 7] - SCREEN 2. EAST WALL. [p. 8] PARRYING STICKS AND SHIELDS, AFRICA. 61. Bow-shaped, parrying shield, DINKA, East Central Africa. It is held in the centre and the darts of the assailants parried with the hooked ends.
PRM label ?- GUARD FOR WARDING OFF SPEARS. DINKA NEGROES. E. CENTRAL AFRICA. PETHERICK COLLECTION [rectangular paper label, stuck to object, print text. Second damaged label with same text stuck to other side of shaft]. There is also a square patch of discolouration on the surface where a smaller label had once been attached; this label was not located]; AFRICA, Sudan. Dinka tribe. Bow-shaped parry shield. Coll. John Petherick - origiinal Founding collection. 1884.30.21 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 8/7/2005].
Written on object - Shillook and DINKA. Spear guard [handwritten in black ink, possibly by Petherick]; BOW-SHAPED PARRYING-STICK. DINKA, E. CENT. AFRICA . PETHERICK COLL: P.R. 61 [white ink; RTS 8/7/2005].

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

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography