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 = 91 mm, head W = 28.9, th = 36 mm; neck diam = 17.5 mm; handle guard W = 34.7, th = 16 mm; beads diam = 2 mm [RTS 8/9/2004].
27.1 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 straight ahead and slightly to their left. The sex of the figure is not clear. It consists of an oval face with convex top; the back of the skull seems elongated and somewhat exaggerated. The upper part of the head has been carved with a series of straight and curving lines down either side to indicate the hair, leaving broad smooth strips running across the front, down the centre, and across the back of the head; it is a short style that stops at the base of the head. The ears are set on either side of the head and have shallow oval depressions at their centres. The face is slightly modelled, with two convex, lentoid areas around the eyes, marked with pyroengraved holes near their centres, into which opaque white glass ring beads have been set. Above the eyes, two broad pyroengraved arcs mark the eyebrows, meeting in a deep 'v' on the bridge of the nose. The nose is fairly shallow and broad based, with nostrils marked by depressions burnt at its base. Below these, a small mouth has been carved, but not burnt, so it lacks the black colour given to the other incised features. This head sits on top of an elongated neck, carved with a series of broad parallel grooves that spiral up and around its sides. At its base, 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 grain of the wood is visible as a series of fine lines running down the surface, which has also been polished. The wood is a yellowish brown colour (Pantone 7509C); the pyroengraved decoration stands out well in contrast to it. It has a weight of 27.1 grams, and is 91 mm long, slightly shorter than its companion piece; the head is 28.9 mm wide and 36 mm thick, while the neck has a diameter of 17.5 mm, the handle guard is 34.7 mm wide and 16 mm thick, and the beaded 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 1930.86.62 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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