Acholi sword

Acholi sword
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1939.7.109 .1 .2
Cultural Group:
Acholi ?Turkish
Date Made:
By 1850
Iron Metal , Brass Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Leather Skin , Plant Fibre , Wood Plant
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Stitched , Bound , Plaited , Twisted carved
Total L = 829 mm; W blade 41 mm; Th blade 6.6 mm; W handle end 32.3 mm [RTS 24/2/2004].
Local Name:
Luchwang or luchwat
Other Owners:
Armine Charles Almroth Wright
Field Collector:
?Armine Charles Almroth Wright
PRM Source:
Armine Charles Almroth Wright
Donated July 1939
Collected Date:
By 1939
Sword consisting of a wooden handle, polished and stained a dark brown or black, possibly in imitation of ebony (Pantone 440C). This is slightly oval in section throughout, and has a flat end on a slender shaft that tapers in slightly and then out more strongly to form the handle guard, which is lentoid in section, and is cut flat at the end. There is presumably a slot in this part, to receive the tang of the iron blade; however this area is obscured by a piece of leather bound around the handle at this point and a separate hide thong. The leather piece is dark brown to black (Pantone black 7C) and burnished on the surface; the seam where its two ends join has been fastened with a row of hide stitching that runs down the length and over the flat surface of the handle guard, up to the edge of the blade. The blade itself is long and narrow, made of a silvery gray iron (Pantone 421C), with a sharp angular ridge running down the centre of the length on both surfaces, the metal slightly concave on either side, and thinning to form two sharp cutting edges; this produces a lozenge-shaped blade section. The shoulders of the blade are not visible, and as the sheath was not removed, neither is its tip, although the shape of the sheath suggests that the edges taper in towards a point. A carrying or hanging loop has been attached to the handle and base of the blade; this consists of a narrow strip of hide, probably cow hide, with light buff coloured hairs preserved in patches (Pantone 7506C). This strip has been wrapped around the base of the blade, then split, with the ends plaited together and extending as a piece alongside the leather handle grip; the split finishes at the top of this grip, where the now single band of hide is wrapped around the handle at this point. The two loose ends have been pierced by narrow slits, and then fastened by slipping each end through each slit and slightly twisting them. This was probably done while the leather was wet; on drying, it would have shrunk, thus making the join secure. A piece of cord, made from two plant fibre strands twisted together, has been looped over the top of the plaited leather thong, the cord pulled through the loop to secure it, and then the loose ends knotted together. This forms a loop which could be slipped over the hand; it is a slightly orange to yellow brown (Pantone 463C). The sword also has a sheath in place, of a type similar to that seen on some spearheads. This consists of a narrow piece of hide, of similar colouring to the hide used for the carrying thong, bent over each cutting edge. At the top of the sheath, these edge pieces are each pierced with four holes down the side, with two separate narrow hide strips threaded through these, across the blade, and then back again, to hold the sheath in place. The loose ends of these thong lacings hang freely on one side of the sheath. The hide edging pieces are secured further down, at the tip of the blade by a piece of iron wire, that has been pushed into the hide, then wound tightly around the blade and its hide edging 20 times. Next to this, a thin walled brass cylinder (Pantone 874C), made from sheet metal has been fitted over what may be a hide or leather tip; part of a seam may be visible near its broader end. This has a hole on either side near this end, but these holes do not appear to have any function, suggesting either that there was another component to the sheath that is now lost, or that this cylinder may have originally been part of another object, reused here to make a sheath. Complete and in good condition, with a small chip missing from the end of the handle, slight damage to the hide thongs, and with the hairy surface of the hide lost in a number of places. Total length of object 829 mm, length of handle 265 mm, length of blade with sheath in place 564 mm; width at handle end 32.3 x 30 mm, width of handle body 25.5 x 24.2 mm, width of hand guard 58.7 mm, thickness of hand guard 38 mm; width at base of blade 41 mm, maximum thickness of blade 6.6 mm, thickness at cutting edge approximately 0.1 mm; width of thong lacings 3.5 mm, width of plaited thong loop 12.3 mm, width of cord attached to thong loop 1 mm, and width of the sheath tip 11.7 mm.

This sword is said to date from at least 1850 AD, and was manufactured in Acholiland. It was acquired by Armine Charles Almroth Wright, who reported having seen three or four examples in the district and a smaller version that had been seized from an Ethiopian gunrunner in the office at Kapoeta in southern Sudan. If this date is correct, this would be one of the earliest Acholi pieces in the Pitt Rivers Collection (but see also 1952.5.10).

According to Wright, this object is known as
luchwang in the dialect of the Patiko clan, and luchwat in the dialect of the Farajok clan, both of which are sub-groups of the Acholi. The Acholi are not known to be sword users, and it was thought that this example had been taken up in imitation of either Turkish or Ethiopian use. The sheath is very similar in type from the type of sheaths used on some Nilotic spears, such as 1939.7.106.2 and 1939.7.107.2, both from the Jur Luo, or 1936.10.23, from the Anuak.

Rachael Sparks 14/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 244] - A.C.A. WRIGHT , ESQ., ... Granville Park, S.E.13. [p. 266, at top of left column] July [next to catalogue entry] 1939.7.109 [single pencil tick after number] - ACHOLI sword, luchwang (PATIKO dialect), luchwat (FARAJOK dialect). The ACHOLI are spear-using people, and this is an imitation either of TURKISH or ABYSSINIAN usage. Note curious ‘spear type’ of [p. 268] scabbard. This sword dates at least from 1850 and was forged in ACHOLILAND. (Mr. Wright has seen three or four examples in ACHOLILAND and one rather smaller one seized from an ABYSSINIAN gun runner in the KAPOETA office, S.E. SUDAN.).

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 30/1/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1939.7.109. UGANDA, ACHOLI sword. Imitation of TURKISH or ABYSSINIAN work, forged in ACHOLILAND c. 1850. ACHOLI are spear using. d.d. A.C.A. Wright [Circular metal-edged tag, RTS 23/2/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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