Zande throwing knife

Zande throwing knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Western Equatoria Yambio
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1933
Iron Metal , Plant Fibre , Grass Fibre Plant
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bound , Twisted
L = 440 mm, W handle = 23.3 mm, W central blade = 25.3 mm, Th cutting edge 0.1 mm [RTS 19/2/2004]
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Collected by Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton and his wife on 27th April 1933 during a shooting expedition
Field Collector:
Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton & Hannah Powell-Cotton (nee Brayton)
PRM Source:
Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton
Donated 1934
Collected Date:
27th April 1933
Iron throwing knife, consisting of a narrow rectangular central stem, the end of which is bound round many times with thick strips of plant fibre to form a padded handle; the ends of some of these strips can be seen looped over each other at the junction with the lower, angled side blade. Thinner strands of yellow brown twisted fibre (Pantone 7509C) are wound around the handle on top of these and tied off. The stem itself, which is an opaque silvery gray in colour (Pantone 422C), has a flat back, thinning towards the opposite, cutting edge; this only becomes sharp at the end furthest away from the handle. Three additional blades are angled away from this central piece, and were probably separate pieces that were forged into place. One of these projects at an acute angle from the body just above the handle; the outer edges of this blade are bevelled to slope down to a cutting edge on all sides. The inside edge is straight, curving around at the tip, then becoming very slightly curved on the outer edge, till it reaches a rounded projecting spur, with a second, smaller, convex sided spur just below. At the end of the central stem, a second blade is attached at right angles; this also tapers to a rounded tip, with the outer edge being concave sided and the inner edge convex; a third, broader blade leaf continues from the end of the central stem, with an angled spur and then a more strongly curved blade, with concave inner and convex outer edges. The upper surfaces of these additional blades are also bevelled down to their cutting edges, which run around all sides. The underside of the knife is flat, with some working around the edges of the offset blades. Complete and intact, although there is some use wear in the form of some nicks along the cutting edges of the blades. The junction of lower blade and central stem is obscured by the handle binding; that between the upper blades and shaft shows signs of where the pieces were probably joined, with possible filing marks evident on the shaft itself. Some hammering marks may also be visible on the blades. Length 440 mm, width of handle 23.3 mm, thickness of handle 20 mm; width of central blade 25.3 mm, thickness of central blade 2.5 mm, length of lower angled blade 220 mm, width of lower angled blade 44.3 mm, length across second and third blades 254 mm, width of second blade 45.7 mm, width of third blade, including spur, 93 mm, and thickness at cutting edges 0.01 mm.

Collected by Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton and his wife Hannah at Yambio on 27th April 1933 during a shooting expedition.

This is an example of the southern type of throwing knife, which is found in northern Gabon, and from eastern Cameroon almost to the White Nile; it was used by the Zande and by groups who fell under their influence, including the Adio, Bongo and Kreish. This specific variety, which corresponds to Westerdijk's type SP VIII.1A, is found in the region inhabited by the Zande and neighbouring groups in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo. This is supposedly the form which is known to the Zande as
kpinga, although Powell-Cotton gave it the local name sapa (P. Westerdijk 1988, The African Throwing Knife, p. 207-8). The knives could be hung from a disc on the back of the shield (C. Spring, African Arms and Armour, pp 69-70; 79-80). In Petherick's discussions of the Zande, whom he encountered in 1858, they were described as carrying two or three throwing knives at a time in this way (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Sudan and Central Africa, p. 469). He also describes their use: 'The iron weapon, when employed, is thrown with great force, and in such a manner as to revolve upon its centre when spinning through the air' (J. Petherick, 1861, 'On the arms of the Arab and Negro Tribes of Central Africa bordering on the White Nile', Journal of the Royal United Services Institution IV no. 13, p. 176).

This particular example is very similar in shape to 1940.12.610.

Rachael Sparks 18/8/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 248] 1934 [insert] 8 [end insert] - MAJOR P. H. G. POWELL-COTTON , Quex Park, Birchington, E. Kent. Specimens collected by himself & Mrs Cotton, during hunting trips, 1933, viz: [...] [p. 260] - From the ZANDE tribe, LIRANGO, YAMBIO, DINGBA & TAMBURA [...] [insert] 120 [end insert] - Multi-bladed throwing-knife, sapa , YAMBIO (927).

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

Related Documents File
- Typewritten List of "Curios Presented to Dr. Balfour by Major & Mrs. Powell-Cotton. Zande Tribe". This object appears as item 927: “Throwing knife, broken, native name Sapa, 27/4/33 Yambio, 4.34 N 28.23 E” . Also contains details of a cine film 'some tribes of the Southern Sudan', taken by Powell-Cotton during this 1933 expedition, copies of which are now in the National Film and Television Archive and the Powell-Cotton Museum in Kent [RTS 14/3/2005].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Sapa , throwing knife, ZANDE, YAMBIO, E. SUDAN, 4° 34' N., 28° 25' E. d.d. Major Powell-Cotton, 1934 (927) [rectangular metal-edged tag; accession number on reverse; RTS 19/2/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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