Spear-head, Bongo?

Spear-head, Bongo?
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] ?Northern Bahr el Ghazal ?Western Bahr el Ghazal ?Warab ?El Buheyrat ?Western Equatoria
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
?Before 1858
Iron Metal
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Perforated , Incised , Decorated
L = 608 mm; tang L = 271, W = 14.6, th = 6.4 mm; diam holes = 6 mm; blade = 419 mm, W = 63.4 mm, Max Th = 8.3, Min Th at edge = 1 mm [RTS 28/7/2004].
428.5 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Obtained by John Petherick in the Sudan in 1858 and shipped back to England in 1859. Subsequently obtained 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 27
Field Collector:
John Petherick
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Spearhead, probably forged from a single piece of iron that has been hammered to shape. This consists of a long tang with rounded, pointed end, gradually widening to form a narrow rectangular sectioned body. This has been perforated with five roughly circular holes along the length; the metal has swollen slightly at the sides as each hole was forced through, presumably indicating that this was done while the iron was still hot. Midway up the tang, two long barbs with round sections and bodies tapering to sharp points extend out and down from the sides. The tang body narrows slightly above this, just before joining the spear blade. The blade has a moderately narrow, triangular body with slightly convex sides; this tapers in to a slightly splayed, flat tip that is bevelled on its upper and lower faces. Two long, round sectioned spurs project downwards from the base corners of the blade, and there is a flat, raised midrib running down the centre of its length on both sides, continuing the line of the tang. This rib gradually narrows as it approaches the tip of the blade. Both rib and tang have been decorated with a series of incised designs that cover the upper two thirds of the tang and the lower third of the rib, on both sides of the spearhead. On the tang, the decoration consists of a double zigzag made from a series of short strokes, running up the centre of the body; this is interrupted along its course by four of the large holes. The zigzag is flanked on either side by bands of cross hatching that continue to the edge of the tang. These bands continue as the tang narrows and turns into the midrib, and across the area where these two parts join there are a further series of strokes then a short straight line up the centre of the blade base. The spearhead is complete and intact, with hammering marks visible on the blade surface; it is currently a metallic gray colour (Pantone Cool Gray 11C). The edges are sharp, but there is no sign of use wear along them. The spearhead has a weight of 428.5 grams, and is 608 mm long; the tang is 271 mm long, 14.6 mm wide and 6.4 mm thick, and the holes through its body have a diameter of 6 mm. The lower barbs are 110 mm long, while the spearhead blade, including its barbed base, is 419 mm long. The blade has a maximum width of 63.4 mm, and its thickness ranges from 8.3 mm at the midrib, to 1 mm at the edges.

Collected by John Petherick in the Southern Sudan 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. See Petherick 1861, Egypt, The Sudan and Central Africa for more details. Some of this collection was sold 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 ).

Petherick does not attribute this example to a particular tribe; however similar objects are illustrated by Schweinfurth in his 1875 book, Artes Africanae , as coming from the Mittu (similar blade shape, with more complex barbed shaft and what may be a socketed end - pl. X fig. 7) and the Bongo (pl. VIII nos 5-7, and 9). The latter seem to closest parallels, and are all variations on the same theme, sharing the basic blade form as seen in our example, with similar long downward facing barbs and decorated shafts - however their shafts are more complex than this example and have additional barbs present.

Schweinfurth comments that the two forms closest to our example were called 'golloh', and that this form was very popular amongst both the Bongo and the Wanyoro (op.cit. pl. X text for figs 5 and 9). Petherick also records similar forms, but with some of these additional barbs, as coming from the Bongo (J. Petherick, 1861, "On the Arms of the Arab and Negro Tribes of Central Africa, Bordering on the White Nile", J
ournal of the Royal United Service Institution IV no. 13, fig. 14 and p. 174; J. & K. Petherick, 1869, Travels in Central Africa Vol. I, p. 227 (far right). He also comments that the Bongo treated 'long ornamented lance-like articles' in iron as valuables (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Soudan and Central Africa, p. 400), while Schweinfurth talks about long spearheads being used as a type of iron currency (called 'mahee', G. Schweinfurth 1873, The Heart of Africa, p. 279). See also E. Castelli, 1984, Orazio Antinori in Africa Centrale 1859-1861, cat. no. 32, attributed to the Bongo and the Mittu (Museum of Perugia 49499) and cat. 105, Perugia 49498, attributed to the Zande/Bongo.

This object is currently on display in the Lower Gallery, case 76B.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book V entry [p. 30] 1884.99 CURRENCY [Insert] 2 [end insert] - Spear-head. BAHR-EL-GHAZAL. Petherick coll. c 1858.
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 193] - PETHERICK, Consul [...] [insert] 1884.99.2 [end insert] (currency) Spear-head (as currency), Bahr el Gazal Region, c .1858. P.R.
Card Catalogue Entry - AFRICA. BAHR-EL-GAZAL region. Spear-head as currency. Petherick 1858. P.R. [RTS 28/1/2004].
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - CENTRAL AFRICA, BAHR EL GAZAL REGION. Barbed iron spear-head used also as a medium of exchange. Coll. by Consul Petherick c. 1858 on his first discovery of these tribes. P.R. Coll. [metal-edged tag tied to object; RTS 28/7/2004].

Display History:
This is one of only eleven objects from the Petherick collections which are not mentioned in the Black Red or Blue books, it is therefore possible that these eleven objects were displayed at Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums prior to transferring here in 1884 [AP]. Current display label - CENTRAL AFRICA, BAHR EL GAZAL REGION. Barbed iron spear-head used also as a medium of exchange. Coll. by Consul Petherick c. 1858 on his first discovery of these tribes. P.R. Coll. [in case L.76.B; RTS 28/7/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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