Zande knife

Zande knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
?Sudan , Congo, Democratic Republic of
[Southern Sudan?]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
Before 1905
Iron Metal , Wood Plant
Hammered , Forged (Metal) , Carved , Incised , Punched
L = 757 mm, W blade = 48.4 mm, th blade = 5.8 mm [RTS 10/3/2004]
Other Owners:
Sold to the PRM by William Ockelford Oldman (a dealer in ethnographic material) in 1905 [RTS 10/3/2004].
PRM Source:
William Ockelford Oldman
Purchased 1905
Collected Date:
Before 1905
Iron knife consisting of a yellowish brown polished wooden handle (Pantone 463C), with oval flat top and faceted sides flaring in to a cylindrical body with oval section, then very slightly out again to a flat end that has a rectangular slot cut into it to receive the blade tang. The other end of this tang can be seen projecting from the handle top, where it has been bent over and hammered down to fix it in place. It has been left standing proud of the surface, and the area underneath cut down, probably to serve as a loop to which a cord could 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. The blade itself is long, narrow and curved, particularly towards the end. There is a short tang with rectangular section at its base; this has three broad grooves or channels along its upper face and short notches cut into the thinner, cutting edge, which is straight at this point. Above this is a short spur projecting at right angles to the blade, with a short body then a long crescent-shaped top. The outer convex edge of this crescent is also notched. The blade has a thick, flat, convex back, and a concave cutting edge on the inside. The upper surface has two channels cut along its length. These end further down the blade, where it becomes broader and double edged, with the outer edge now being straight; this is bulges out slightly just before the broad point. There is a hole piercing the base of this wider blade end; this has been bored from the upper surface. Tool marks are visible along the cutting edges on both sides of the knife, where the edge has been hammered flat. Decoration on the upper surface of the blade consists of two horizontal rows of oblique hatching along the base of the spur, with an arch of similar hatching above, then a series of straight parallel lines along the centre of the broader blade section, with a group of horizontal lines crossing these at their base, and incised ^-shaped chevrons crossing these at the top. On the underside there is a single arc of hatching at the base of the spur, and two horizontal lines across the width of the blade at this point; the lower of these is framed by oblique hatching on either side; the upper one has two rows of oblique lines above it. At the other end of the blade on this side there are two parallel lines across the width of the blade, with vertical hatching between, placed just below the point where the blade widens. The shorter incised lines, as seen in the various bands of hatching, are oval in shape, reflecting the shape of the tool used. The object is nearly complete, with a very small part of the handle missing; the iron is in good condition and currently a silvery gray colour (Pantone 421C). There are some dents in the blade edge. Total length 757 mm, length of handle 93.7 mm, dimensions of handle top 49.5 x 42 mm, width of handle body 29.5 mm, thickness of handle body 24 mm; length of spur 16 mm, width of spur top 51.6 mm, thickness of spur 2.5 mm; maximum width of blade at upper end 48.4 mm, maximum width of blade at lower end 29 mm, thickness of blade back 5.8 mm, thickness of cutting edge 0.3 mm.

Sold to the PRM by William Ockelford Oldman (a dealer in ethnographic material) in 1905.
Although Oldman published catalogues of his sale material from 1903 onwards, this object could not be matched to any of his entries or object photographs, although similar knives were occasionally sold (see W.O. Oldman, 1976. Illustrated Catalogue of Ethnographical Specimens from the W.O. Oldman Catalogues . London; this is a reprint of his sale's catalogues from 1903 to 1914).

Comparable knives are found amongst the Zande and Boa; some authors have seen these as having derived from the throwing knife, while Petherick claims these were used as projectiles (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'; see also J. Petherick, 1860, 'On the Arms of the Arab and Negro Tribes of Central Africa, Bordering on the White Nile', Journal of the Royal United Service Institution IV no. 13, p. 176). They may have been dual purpose blades. For similar examples, said to be from the Democratic Republic of Congo, see 1909.65.5-8 and 1927.54.51.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [BII, p. 65] - 1905 [insert] 68 [end insert] W.O. OLDMAN, 77 Brixton Hill, S.W. [insert] 10 [end insert] - Throwing sword, Niam Niam, Cent[ral]. Africa 7/6 [total for objects 1905.68.1-10] Paid by cheque, 5.5.1905. 5-4-0 .

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 10/2/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - NIAM NIAM, CENTRAL AFRICA. Purch. 1905 (Oldman) [rectangular tag with metal edges, kept with object; RTS 8/3/2004]

Display History:
4 long chopper swords with spurs. AZANDE & MONGALLA R. Purch. ... 1905, 1909 [rectangular display label, now stored in RDF 1905.68.10; RTS 18/5/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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