Zande staff

Zande staff
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 1928
Wood Plant
Carved , Decorated , Incised , ?Stained
L = 981 mm, Max W = 33.4, Max Th = 36 mm, diam shaft = 15.6 mm [RTS 22/9/2004].
222.1 g
Other Owners:
Charles Armine Willis
Field Collector:
Charles Armine Willis
PRM Source:
Charles Armine Willis
Loaned November 1928
Collected Date:
by November 1928
Walking stick carved from a single piece of wood. The top has been sculpted into the figure of a naked woman, facing to the front with her arms by her side and hands held partially covering her pelvis, one positioned higher than the other. The top of the head is rounded, and the face carved as an elongated oval, with brow, broad flattened nose, and mouth all standing proud of the surface; the eyes have been sunken, with raised ovals across their centres, and lentoid shaped cuts marking the pupils. Circular depressions mark the nostrils, while there is a further depression bored into one side of the nose. Facial scarring is also indicated, with four vertical lines running down either cheek. Two large ears have been positioned high up on either side of the head; these have crescent-shaped interior hollows. The hairstyle is indicated partly through carving, and partly through incised decoration, following the shape of the back of the head, but then flaring out into a fan that hangs down over the back of the neck. Two horizontal lines filled with chevrons and hatching mark the front of the hair; the rest is marked by a series of parallel lines running from the brow, over the head, and down to the base of the hair. The areas between these lines are filled with columns of incised crescents, replaced by incised crosses for most of the lower part.

The figure has been carved in the round, with low, rounded shoulders and very narrow arms that are bent at the elbows. The hands have been carved as flattened ovals, with digits delineated by long cuts; they give the appearance of being held with the palms facing outwards. Breasts are indicated as two gentle swellings at the front, one of which is flattened at the tip, with a shallow circular depression marking the belly button below. The front of the torso has been marked with lightly incised cicatrisation marks, consisting of groups of three parallel lines arranged in three rows beneath each breast, and pairs of lines radiating out from the navel. The figure has rounded hips, before merging with the stick below; there has been no attempt to show the legs or feet. The back of the figure is as well modelled as the front, with an elongated, concave back that has a groove running down the centre. Below the figure, the body of the staff becomes more narrow and circular in section, with some irregularities along its length due to the natural shape of the parent branch. The base has been cut flat. The object is complete, but has several long splits down the length of the wood, including down the back of the sculpted figure. The surface is rather dirty and it is not clear if it has been deliberately stained; the colour varies from a dark reddish brown (Pantone 4625C) to a lighter orangey brown (Pantone 470C). It has a weight of 222.1 grams, and is 981 mm long; the figure has a maximum width of 33.4 mm and thickness of 36 mm, while the shaft has a diameter of 15.6 mm.

Collected by Charles Armine Willis while working in the Sudan, sometime between 1905 and November 1928, when he presented it on loan to the Pitt Rivers Museum. It is described as a ‘walking stick’; although said to be Zande in origin, the style may be more typical for material from the Congo (Jeremy Coote pers. comm. 2005).

According to Larken, Zande men and women both practised cicatrisation, but 'the face is usually not touched, except where an individual has come into contact with Arabs and copied their habit in this direction (P.M. Larken, 1926, "An Account of the Zande", Sudan Notes and Records IX no. 1, p. 31)'. This practice may have become more widespread since Larken's time, however, as most of the modelled human figures made by Mbitim (1996.53.1, 1934.8.133-135, 1950.12.117, 1928.67.4), or Zande woodcarvers (1932.30.14-15) are depicted with this kind of facial scarring, as indeed is the case with this example.

Rachael Sparks 26/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [Loans II, p. 279] - 1928 [insert] 67 [end insert] C. ARMINE WILLIS Esq, Governor of the Upper Nile Province, Sudan. Red Lodge, Cold Ash, Newbury, Berks. Nov. [insert] 4 [end insert] - Native walking-stick with the upper part of a woman's figure carved at the top. AZANDE, BAHR EL GAZAL.

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

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Walking-staff, AZANDE, BAHR-EL-GAZAL, A.-E. SUDAN. Lent by C.A. Willis, 1928 [rectangular metal-edged tag, broken into two halves, not kept with object; RTS 22/9/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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