Zande knife

Zande knife
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:
By 1917
Iron Metal , Brass Metal , Wood Plant , Plant Fibre , Textile
Hammered , Bound , Carved , Incised , Woven
L = 465 mm, W handle end = 53.8 mm, Max W blade = 85.5 mm, Max Th blade = 5.5 mm, Th cutting edge = 1 mm [RTS 14/4/2004].
550.2 g
Other Owners:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably collected in the period immediately before World War I (1909-1914) [RTS 1/6/2004].
Field Collector:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
PRM Source:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
Donated 1917
Collected Date:
By 1917
Knife consisting of a short cylindrical wooden handle, oval in section, with a flat end. The handle end has been polished, and the top may have been stained black. The other end of this is cut flat, and has a smaller cylindrical body continuing for another 90 mm; this then flares out to form a slightly convex shoulder with sides concave above, with a flatter, more oval section. Above this point, the handle connects with the blade tang. The exact method of attachment is not clear, as this is obscured by the handle binding, but it is assumed that the tang has been inserted through the centre of the handle, and then its rectangular end hammered over at the top to fix it in place. This is end is visible where it emerges through the handle top, and is off centre. The narrower parts of the handle have been decorated with brass and iron strips. These begin just below the handle knob, with two narrow strips of polished brass that have their ends hammered into slots in the wood to secure them. Below this is a short section of thin, twisted iron wire, then two more brass strips that extend over the shoulder and up to the area where the blade becomes visible. Plant fibre padding is present at the end of handle, and the last section of brass binding has been partially bound with a strip of woven red cloth, with several cotton stitches around the surface. The blade tang is visible from this point. Tang and blade are made from a single piece of iron, on which hammering marks are visible in places. The tang has slightly faceted, flat surfaces; the metal was then given a double twist just above the blade itself. This is curved, with a broad flat ridge running along the length on both sides. This is not centred. On one side of the ridge, the blade extends to form a broad, sharpened base edge with a pointed corner; a more narrow blade extends from the other side of this, slightly higher up the knife. The sides then begin to taper in towards the point at the other end. Both edges have been sharpened. Three circular holes have been cut into the base of the blade on one side, arranged in a vertical line. The blade has also been decorated with a series of lightly incised designs. These consist of four rows of crosshatched triangles on the short tang; simple hatching across the raised parts of the twisted body below; then three to two rows of crosshatched triangles that continue along the length of the flat ridge. These designs are found on both sides of the blade. The object is complete, with some minor cut marks on the blade and handle. The iron is currently a metallic gray colour (Pantone 422C); the brass a metallic yellow (Pantone 871C), the cloth a matt red (Pantone 492C) and the handle mid brown (Pantone 1545C). The knife is 465 mm in length; the handle knob measures 53.8 by 49.4 mm, and the remaining handle section 24.8 by 23 mm; the tang measures 20 by 7.2 mm, while the maximum width of the blade is 85.5 mm, its thickness is 5.5 mm at the centre, and 1 mm at its cutting edge. The knife weighs 550.2 grams.

Collected by Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson in the Bahr el Ghazal region, probably between 1909 and 1914, in the period immediately before World War I. At the time this object was collected, the Bahr el Ghazal province was much larger than it is today, extending from roughly the Bahr el Arab all the way to the border with the Belgian Congo; this area is now divided into the districts of Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and parts of Warab, El Buheyrat and Western Equatoria.

Although called a throwing knife in its original accession book entry, this type of object is more properly called a knife, and could be used as both a weapon and a tool. It is sometimes referred to in the literature as a 'sickle knife', due to the curved shape of the blade; similar examples are known amongst the Mangbetu, and it is possible that the Zande borrowed the type from them (see for example M. Felix, 1991,
Kipinga, fig. 95; he calls this type of object a 'power emblem'). For similar knives, see 1904.59.22, and also E. Castelli, 1984, Orazio Antinori in Africa Centrale 1859-1861, cat. no. 111, attributed to the Mangbetu or Zande (Museum of Perugia accession number 19469).

Rachael Sparks 17/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [VI, p. 54] - 1917 [pencil insert] 25 [end insert] MAJOR R.G. GAYER-ANDERSON , R.A.M.C. The Lodge, Old Marston, Oxon [pencil insert] 27 [end insert] - Sickle-shaped throwing knife, Niam Niam, Bahr-el-Gazal.
Additional Accession Book Entry
[page opposite 54] - A gift to the Pitt Rivers Museum in memory of Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, Pasha, his twin brother Colonel J.G. Gayer-Anderson, C.M.G., D.S.O.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 3/2/2004].

Related Documents File - Two letters dated 30/03/1917 and 13/04/1917 from the donor to Henry Balfour regarding the donation of the collection to the museum [EB 12/11/2001]. These indicate that the material was collected by Robert Gayer-Anderson himself, chiefly from the areas of Nuba, Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal during 5 years he spent in the Sudan, and that they were given to the museum as an unconditional gift [RTS 5/12/2003]. The note in the accession book calling this gift 'in memory of' R.G. Gayer-Anderson is therefore somewhat enigmatic, as both Robert and his twin brother (Thomas G., not J.G.) were alive at the time of the transfer [RTS 5/12/2003].

Written on object -
NIAM NIAM, BAHR-EL-GAZAL. Pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917.

Display History:
Former display label - AZANDE, BAHR EL GHAZAL - dd Mjr R.G. Gayer-Anderson 1917 [stored in RDF; RTS 20/2/2004].

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