Zande knife handle

Zande knife handle
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1930
Wood Plant , Glass
Carved , Pyroengraved Pokerwork , Decorated , Polished
L = 103, head W = 25.6, Th = 32.4 mm; neck diam = 17.6 mm; handle guard W = 37.7, th = 18.2 mm; diam beads = 2 mm [RTS 8/9/2004].
29.9 g
Other Owners:
Probably collected by Evans-Pritchard himself during his fieldwork amongst the Zande, which took place during 1927, part of 1928 and 1929 and for several months during 1930 [CM; RTS 6/7/2004]. Purchased from Edward Evans-Pritchard for the PRM by Henry Bal
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Purchased 31 December 1930
Collected Date:
1927 - 1930
Knife handle carved from a single piece of wood in the shape of the head, neck and shoulders of a human figure, looking forward but with the head twisted slightly to its right. The sex of the figure is not clear. It consists of an oval head with convex top, the upper part of which has been carved with a series of incised straight and curving lines to indicate the hair; this is smooth and flat at the front, and divided into several parts at the back; the hair appears to stop at the tops of the ears. The ears are set well back on the sides of the head, and have shallow oval depressions at their centre. The face has been carved with two slightly convex, lentoid areas around the eyes, marked with a pyroengraved hole near their centres, into which a single opaque white glass ring bead has been set. Above the eyes, the eyebrows are indicated by two pyroengraved arcs that are of different heights, giving the face a surprised expression. The nose is fairly shallow, with the nostrils marked by two circular depressions burnt into its base; below these, a short horizontal line has been burnt to delineate the mouth. This head sits on top of an elongated neck, carved with a series of broad parallel grooves that spiral up and around its sides. Below, this neck flares out concavely, suggesting a pair of shoulders, that have been cut flat at either end, forming a handle guard for the knife. The underside of the guard has been cut to form a slightly concave, flattened surface, but does not yet have a slot cut into it to receive the tang of a blade. This suggests that the object was purchased from the craftsman before being assembled as a complete knife - as presumably these slots are cut only when the blade is available and ready for insertion, to guarantee that the fit is a secure one - rather than being a complete object subsequently broken up into its constituent parts. The object appears complete and intact; the surface has been polished. The wood is a yellowish brown colour (Pantone 4655C), with the pyroengraved decoration standing out black against this light material. It has a weight of 29.9 grams and is 103 mm long; the head is 25.6 mm wide and 32.4 mm thick, while the neck has a diameter of 17.6 mm, the handle guard is 37.7 mm wide and 18.2 mm thick, and the bead eyes have diameters of 2 mm.

Collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard during his fieldwork amongst the Zande in the Bahr el Ghazal region, which took place during 1927, part of 1928 and 1929 and for several months during 1930.

Note that this and 1930.86.63 are made in same style, from the same type of wood, and were probably carved by the same craftsman. 1930.86.62 looks slightly to its right, while 1930.86.63 looks slightly to its left; was this symmetry intentional?

Rachael Sparks 17/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [BIV, p. 138] - 1930 [insert] 86 [end insert] E.E. EVANS PRITCHARD 31 Dec. Specimens collected by himself in the EASTERN SUDAN, etc. [...] [p. 139a, insert] 62-63 [end insert] - [1 of] 2 small wood carvings, [insert] (knife handles) [end insert] spirally-carved stems, surmounted with human heads, AZANDE. [...] [Base of p. 139, total of items 1930.86.1-65] - P[ai]d by cheque 31 Dec £ 25-0-0 .
Added Accession Book Entry [page opposite 138] - 1930.86 See Related Documents File for letter from Henry Balfour to Evans-Pritchard concerning the purchase of this collection.

Card Catalogue Entry - The card repeats the information from the accession book, with further comment regarding its identification as a knife handle, 'identified by donor, 10.10.58' [RTS 2/2/2004].

Related Documents File - This contains a letter from Balfour to Evans-Pritchard, dated 31 December 1930 that specifies the objects which he would like to purchase for the Pitt Rivers Museum, and suggests a price of £25, which was one quarter of his annual budget. The list matches the objects ultimately accessioned quite closely. This item appears on the list as one of "2 small carvings (Zande)" [RTS 17/5/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Knife handles. AZANDE carvings. BAHR EL GHAZAL, E. CENT. AFRICA. Evans Pritchard colln. Pur. 31.12.1930 [this was written on a label stuck onto the side of the mount block; the object has been removed from its mount and the label stored separately in the RDF, RTS 16/9/2004].

Written on object -
AZANDE, BAHR EL-GHAZAL, Evans-Pritchard coll. Pur. 31.12.1930 [RTS 16/9/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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