Zande knife

Zande knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1934.8.123 .1 .2
[Southern Sudan] Western Equatoria Yambio
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1933
Wood Plant , Iron Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Brass Metal , Cane Plant
Hammered , Carved , Incised , Polished , Wound , Stitched
L knife = 136 mm, blade L = 72 mm, blade W = 22.3 mm, blade th = 0.8 mm, handle end 28 by 27 mm, guard W = 31.6 mm; sheath L = 80 mm, W opening = 25.5 mm, W base = 16.7 mm, Mx Th = 8 mm, Diam wire = 0.5 mm, W cane strip = 2 mm, W hide strip = 2.2 mm [RTS
25.6 (knife), 7.1 (sheath)
Local Name:
sapamara sape? puka?
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
Small knife [.1] consisting of a wooden handle with a flat, circular end with straight cut edge, flaring in to a cylindrical handle with oval section, splaying out at the other end to form a handle guard cut flat at the end of either arm, and on its outer face, where a roughly oval slot has been cut into the wood to allow the tang to pass through. The rectangular iron tang of the knife passes through the centre of the handle, and may be seen where it has come too close to the surface of the wood, causing part of the wood to break away. It continued through to the top of the handle, where it has been bent over and hammered back into the wood to fix it in place. The handle is a light yellowish brown colour (Pantone 7509C) and has been polished, predominantly on the sides. The tang extends beyond the handle guard at the other end for 9 mm, and has been decorated on both sides by a series of 6 roughly parallel incised lines across its width. A short two-edged blade continues from this, slightly thickened at the centre, with broad base, sloping shoulders and sides that taper in to a slightly rounded point at the other end. The iron is in good condition, the blade intact, and currently a metallic grey colour (Pantone 421C). The blade is decorated on both sides with a series of punched dots. On one side this forms a simple wavy line, on the reverse, a similar wavy line merges into three lozenges linked by short lines. These designs are possibly meant to represent snakes. The total length of the knife is 136 mm, with the visible blade measuring 72 mm in length, 22.3 mm across the base of the blade, and 0.8 mm at its thickest point. The tang is 8.3 mm wide and 1.6 mm thick, just above the handle. The handle measures 28 by 27 mm at its end, and 4 by 3.5 mm at its narrowest point; the handle guard is 31.6 mm wide and 13.5 mm thick, with the whole weighing 25.6 grams.

The knife comes with a small sheath [.2], made from a single piece of light creamy yellow animal hide (Pantone 7402C). that has been folded over to form a tapering sheath with the two joining ends bent at right angles to the body and forming a raised ridge that runs down the length of the sheath on one side. These have been sewn together with a narrow strip of yellowish brown cane (Pantone 7509C). On the opposite side, four short vertical cuts have been made in the hide, and a narrow hide strip has been passed through and then knotted together, to form an oval loop by which the sheathed knife could be suspended from a belt or an arm strap. This strip is the same colour as the body of the sheath and is presumably made from the same material. Single pieces of brass wire (Pantone 871C), round in section, have been wound several times around the top and bottom edges of the sheath, perhaps to strengthen it as well as being a decorative feature in their own right. The loose ends of wire are secured by tucking them behind the coils. The sheath is complete, with a length of 80 mm, a width across the opening of 25.5 mm, and across the base of 16.7 mm. It has a thickness of 2 mm along its side edges, and 8 mm at the centre ridge. The wire is around 0.5 mm in diameter, the cane stitching about 2 mm wide, while the strip used to make the suspension loop is 2.2 mm wide. The sheath has a weight of 7.1 grams.

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

This knife is called sapamara , according to Powell-Cotton; it is similar in form to 1934.8.122. This is also probably the type of small knife discussed by Larken, although this particular examples is undecorated and lacks a sheath: "Attached to a man's waist-belt is the sheath in which he carries his dagger-like knife. It is called a puka, and is made of leather, with a longitudinal seam running down one side, flat and pointed. A thong attaches it to the belt. The point and top are usually bound round with brass wire, or with brass or iron or copper beaten into a narrow flat ribbon; or the whole puka may be so embellished. It will be from three to six inches in length, and from one to two in width at the top, according to the knife. The knife ( sape ) is firmly clasped by the sheath, and though it hangs head down seldom falls out. It is small, and spear-shaped, double-edged, with a simple design incised on the blade. A tongue of metal is passed through the wooden handle, which has a narrow waist, like an elongated cotton-reel, and is two or three inches in length. The top is circular, the guard straight. The metal tongue of the blade comes out at the top and is turned over. The handle is often decorated with a binding of finely-twisted wire, or brass-headed nails. A smaller knife is often carried as a razor" (P.M. Larken, 1926, "An Account of the Zande", Sudan Notes and Records IX no. 1, pp 38-39).

This object is currently on display in the Lower Gallery, case 82A.

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

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] 123 [end insert] - Ditto [small broad-bladed sheath-knife with wooden handle], sapamara , with hide sheath, ib[idem] [YAMBIO] (891).

Related Documents File - Typewritten List of "Curios Presented to Dr. Balfour by Major & Mrs. Powell-Cotton. Zande Tribe". This object appears as item 891: “Knife & sheath, small, scabbard bound brass wire, native name Sapamara, 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 - sapamara , knife with sheath. ZANDE, YAMBIO, E. SUDAN. d.d. Major Powell-Cotton, 1934 (891) [rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object, RTS 26/5/2004].

Written on object -
A [or D?] 891 [pencil marking on wooden handle; probably made by collector; RTS 4/5/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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