Acholi axe

Acholi axe
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Chua District
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1922
Iron Metal , Wood Plant , Brass Metal , Copper Metal , ?Lead Metal
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Perforated , Bent , Carved , Polished Inlaid Decorated
L = 723 mm, Handle W = 22.4, Th = 21.7 mm; axehead L = 229, W = 41, th = 6 mm; ring diam = 12.5, th = 2.4 mm; inlays L = 6, w = 1 to 2 mm [RTS 20/9/2004].
496.2 g
Other Owners:
The donor, Percy Otto St Clair Wilbraham Perryman, served as Assistant Commissioner of the Ugandan Protectorate and may have acquired this object in the field himself.
Field Collector:
?Percy Otto St Clair Wilbraham Perryman
PRM Source:
Percy Otto St Clair Wilbraham Perryman
Donated July 1922
Collected Date:
By 1922
Axe consisting of a wooden body, carved in a single piece with a three-pronged head, faceted on the sides and with a slight raised ridge running down the centre of the front and back, on a straight, round sectioned handle that splays out very slightly just before its convex butt. This is a reddish brown colour (Pantone 731C). A tapering, rectangular slot has been cut through the side of the head, and an iron axe head hafted through it. This has been made from a rectangular piece of iron, hammered to shape, with a narrow body that tapers out a broad, slightly curved cutting edge at the end. There is a raised rib running down the length on both sides. The narrow butt end of the blade has been pierced, and a small iron ring passed through the hole; the ring has been made from a short rod, bent into a loop with ends almost touching. The handle of the axe has been polished, where the wood is visible. It has also been decorated with a series of short rectangular metal inlay strips. The majority of these are a matt gray colour (Pantone 424C), probably lead, mixed with small groups of metallic yellow brass (Pantone 871C) and copper strips (Pantone 876C). Each strip has been oriented along the length of the handle, its ends turned down and hammered into the wood to secure it. These cover an area from the forked top of the shaft down to the first quarter of the body; a narrow strip across the centre of the shaft; and a wider band covering the last quarter of its length. The inlays are arranged in horizontal rows that run around the body. The decorated head area has a gray background with two square patches of copper strips near the top and bottom of both faces, and single or paired brass strips scattered between. The section below and the section at the base of the handle both have random groups of copper or brass strips scattered over the decorated area, while the central band has four rows of gray inlays, with a double row of copper inlays sandwiched in between. The object is mostly complete, but a few individual inlay strips have been lost from areas of the head and shaft. There is also a purplish red stain on the handle butt. It has a weight of 496.2 grams, and is 723 mm long. The handle has a diameter of 22.4 by 21.7 mm; the axe head is 229 mm long, 41 mm wide at its cutting edge and 6 mm thick at the midrib; the iron ring has a diameter of 12.5 mm and is 2.4 mm wide, and the inlaid strips are 6 mm long and 1-2 mm wide.

This item was obtained in the Chua District in Uganda, and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum by Percy Otto St Clair Wilbraham Perryman in 1922. It is not known if Perryman was collector as well as donor, but as he held the post of Assistant Commissioner of the Ugandan Protectorate, this seems likely.

According to Trowell and Wachsmann, this type of object is a 'dancing weapon', an axe that was originally used by the Acholi as tool and a throwing weapon, but which had lost the latter function owing to the end of tribal warfare, and now being used as a ceremonial item carried in the dance. They do not indicate how long this had been the case; as this particular axe was collected over 20 years previously, it is possible that it still had retained some of its original functions (M. Trowell & K.P. Wachsmann, 1953, Tribal Crafts of Uganda, pl. 66D, D1, p. 257). For another example of this type, see W. Fischer & M.A. Zirngibl, African Weapons, 1978, cat. 61, said to be a battle axe of the Kamjuru and Acholi which was collected in Uganda by R. Kmunke in 1912, and which has similar iron inlays, a 3 pronged head, and a leather blade sheath.

Rachael Sparks 14/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [VII, p. 60] - 1922. [pencil insert] 48 [end insert] P.W. PERRYMAN . 1922.825 July [pencil insert] 1 [end insert] - ACHOLI ornamental axe, ornamented with white metal (?lead), copper & brass, CHUA DISTRICT, UGANDA.
Additional Accession Book Entry [VII, p. 25 top, in pencil] - blue numbers not valid & not on specimens. Inserted by an assistant in error.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 30/1/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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