Murle arm ornament

Murle arm ornament
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] ?Upper Nile ?Jonglei
Cultural Group:
Murle [Djibba]
Date Made:
?Before 1865
Iron Metal , Abrus Precatorius Seed Plant , Glass , Cowrie Shell
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Inlaid
L = 108.2 mm, W = 21.4 mm, Ht = 29.4 mm, th = 3 mm [RTS 5/3/2004]
340.4 g
Other Owners:
Collected by John Petherick in the Southern Sudan. The collection date is not specified, but a number of Murle items were sold at his 1862 auction, and this is quite likely to have been included amongst them, perhaps as part of lot 44, described as ĎA bra
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
1853 - 1859 or 1861 - 1865
Heavy iron arm ornament, made from a thick rectangular sheet of iron that is currently silver gray in colour (Pantone 422C). This has been hammered out, and a series of notches cut into the two long edges. The two sides of this sheet was then pulled upwards, leaving a broad flat base with the sides at right angles to it, producing a u-shaped profile. This was then bent into a loop with open ends, 18 mm apart on their inner and closest edges, creating a bracelet that could be tightened by pushing the ends together. The metal is thick and inflexible, so any such adjustment would probably have been carried out by a blacksmith. The ends are flat and somewhat roughly finished. The end product is an armlet that has a flat upper surface, sloping downwards slightly to its outer, denticulated edges, overhanging the concave body below, which then turns out at the base to a flattened underside with similarly denticulated edges. There is slight damage to these teeth, that may indicate the bracelet has indeed been used as a weapon.

The flattened inner surface of the object, where it rested against the wrist, has been covered with an unidentified material that is a glossy black colour with some areas of red. This may represent resin, bitumen or a man-made paste, and has small pieces of a lighter brown, possibly organic, material embedded in it. It is possible that this substance has been added to the armlet as padding to make it fit more comfortably, or more tightly, or to fill a damaged area of the metal, although the iron on the outer face appears to be sound. The outside, recessed surface of the armlet has been partially filled with a thick paste-like material in a thick band at either end; this may be similar in composition to that on the inside surface, although it has a stronger reddish orange colouring (Pantone 1675C) and a grittier texture that seems to incorporate several vegetable fibres. This is glossy in some areas and may have been coated. Set into the paste at either end are a series of decorative objects: glossy red and black abrus seeds (Pantone 485C), turquoise blue long and short cylindrical glass beads (Pantone 319C), blue glass beads of unknown shape (Pantone 292C), and at least one red glass cylindrical bead (Pantone 180C), with a single half cowrie shell, set with its base showing, as the centrepiece of the design on each end. These beads are presumably trade beads that were imported to the Sudan by Arab and European traders during the Nineteenth Century A.D. There are also several depressions where additional elements have fallen away and been lost. The rest of this surface has a red coating, that may be either rust or traces of further paste inlay. Outer length across bracelet 108.2 mm; inside length across bracelet 71.8 mm and width 60 mm; width from inside edge to denticulated edge 21.4 mm; thickness from top to bottom 29.4 mm, and thickness of sheet metal 3 mm. The beads are of varying sizes; the cowrie shells have a visible length of 20 and 21 mm respectively. The armlet weighs 340.4 grams.

Collected by John Petherick in the Southern Sudan. The collection date is not specified, but a number of Murle items were sold at his 1862 auction, and this is quite likely to have been included amongst them, perhaps as part of lot 44, described as ‘A bracelet of very singular fashion (Djibba)’. 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 ). Certainly, Pitt Rivers is known to have purchased several items at this auction. If this is the case, the item would have been collected sometime between 1853 and 1858, and shipped back to England in 1859. Pitt Rivers had definitely acquired the item by 1868, when it was published by Wood and described as being part of his collection (see below). He 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 later displayed in the South Kensington Museum, and transferred from there to become part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

Petherick appears to have encountered the 'Djibba' during his first trading expedition in 1853, when he travelled up the Sobat River. However as he established a trading camp amongst the Dinka in this region, subsequent contact with the 'Djibba' through his agents seems likely. Petherick locates the Djibba, or Jibba, somewhere along the Sobat River or the tributaries running into it from the east, which suggests a location in either the administrative districts of either Upper Nile or Jonglei, or across the border into modern Ethiopia (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Sudan and Central Africa, Map; note that the geographical coordinates given for this group in his 1860 article seem to be inaccurate). Ajibba is the Anuak name for this group, who are also known as the Murle (B.A. Lewis 1972, The Murle , 2).

Petherick describes the use of fighting bracelets by this group on several occasions, although the type described is probably somewhat different from this example: 'The Djibba wears also a peculiarly sharp-edged iron bracelet on each wrist, which for the double purpose of keeping sharp and his skin intact, is also covered with a strip of leather, which however in case of need he removes and closing with his enemy, whom he grasps in his arms, is capable of inflicting serious wounds on him with his bracelets' (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 Service Institution, vol iv, no 13 , p. 173); 'Their wrists are also armed with a peculiar kind of iron bracelet, the base being about quarter of an inch thick and from one to one and a half inch wide. It tapers out to a sharp edge' (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Soudan and Central Africa , p. 360). This particular example is illustrated and discussed further by Wood: 'The Djibba workman first takes a thin plate of iron, sharpens the edges, and cuts a row of deep notches along them; he then rolls it longitudinally, so as to form half a cylinder; and lastly, bends it round into the form of a bracelet. When it is placed on the wrist, the two ends are pressed or hammered together, until the bracelet is held firmly in its place' (J.G. Wood, 1868, The Natural History of Man, Volume I, p. 520 and figure 3).

A similar style of fighting bracelet is published in W. Fischer and M.A. Zirngibl's 1978 book,
African Weapons, p. 44 and cat. nos 55 and 56. These are said to be Nuba 'battle knives', made of bronze and iron, and they have a similar body shape and size to 1884.82.23, but without the denticulated edges or decorative beads. The Nuba are said to only put these on when needed, and one is shown with the plant fibre binding that was used to tie it in place. Both have much wider openings between the ends than the Museum’s example.

The short blue cylindrical beads seen on this object look to be the same type as found on some Anuak bead necklaces (see for example 1951.7.1); they call these beads
dimui, and use them as bridewealth or to pay compensation for injuries. In the 1930's, these were worth one or two piastres each, and were said to have been brought from their homeland by their ancestors (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, The Political System of the Anuak, p. 55).

This object is currently on display in the Upper Gallery, case 75A, number 28.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book V entry [p. 1] - [insert] 1884.82 [end insert] PERSONAL ORNAMENTS (contd from Vol. IV) METAL BANGLES, BRACELETS, ANKLETS 13) [insert] 23 [end insert] - Warrior's heavy iron bracelet, U-shaped in section, with castellated edges, ornamented along the surface with abrus seeds & glass set in red paste. JIBBA, E.C. AFRICA. Petherick coll. (106) (1619 black).
Additional Accession Book V Entry [p. opposite 1] - [Drawing, annotated '13'].
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [p. 195] [insert] 1884.68.23 [end insert] Warrior's bracelet of heavy iron: serrated edge: inlaid on wax with abrus beads [insert] abrus seeds [end insert], glass, teeth etc. DJIBBA, E[AST].C[ENTRAL]. AFRICA (PR 106/black 1619).
Black book entry [p. 67] - 1619. Bracelets (12), iron. Dinka & Schillook tribes, C. Africa. One a warrior's sharp edged iron bracelet. Djibba tribe, Africa [which is this example; RTS 9/3/2004]. p. 110. [insert] 1884.78.93, 94, 95; 1884.82.23-28, 34 + 1884.82.43, 44 [end insert]. [Note that 1884.82.28 is actually PR 104 and does not belong to this group, while there is an additional object not listed here that should be added (to be accessioned), RTS 2/4/2004].
Added Black book entry [p. 67a] - Iron and bronze penannular knob ended bracelets Indian in form are found in Africa having been made and introduced for trade purposes by Birmingham firms.
Delivery Catalogue II entry [p. 300] - Personal Ornaments of various Nations [p. 306] [insert] 1884,78.93-95, 82.23-29, 34, 43-4 [end insert] 12 iron bracelets (Central Africa), 1619, Case 74, 345. [Note that while 12 bracelets are described, cross references are given to 13 objects. Of these, 1884.78.28 is marked with PR reference 104, and 1884.78.29 is PR 95/8386, meaning both should be omitted from the group, while there is an additional object marked with PR 106/1619 that should be added to it (this still needs to be accessioned). This makes a total of 12 items actually belonging to this group; RTS 2/4/2004].
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 7/4/2004].
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Warriors heavy iron bracelet with ornament of seeds, teeth, glass set in a red paste. DJIBBA. N.E.C. AFRICA. Petherick coll. P.R. coll. (black 1619) (106) [small jewellers tag, still tied to object; note the 'teeth' are cowrie shells; RTS 5/3/2004].
Written on object -
106.1619 [red paint, very faint, on inside edge; RTS 5/3/2004].

Display History:
This object was displayed in the Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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