Zande throwing knife

Zande throwing knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
Kordofan Nuba Hills
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1940
Iron Metal , Plant Fibre , Animal Hide Skin
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Bound , Plaited
L = 443 mm, W handle = 9.9 mm, W central blade = 26.5 mm, th cutting edge = 0.1 mm [RTS 19/2/2004]
Other Owners:
Charles Gabriel Seligman
Field Collector:
? Charles Gabriel Seligman & ?Brenda Zara Seligman
PRM Source:
Charles Gabriel Seligman or Brenda Zara Seligman
Donated 1940
Collected Date:
By 1940
Iron throwing knife consisting of a rectangular handle, tapering out slightly from the end, with rectangular section; this is covered with some kind of plant fibre as padding, then bound with four narrow iron bands, the ends of which are pushed down into the fibre or under the neighbouring strips. This forms the handle grip. The metal body or stem, which is an opaque silvery gray in colour, continues as a single piece from the handle tang, but widens slightly, with a slightly triangular section formed by blade sloping down from the flat back edge to the sharpened inner cutting edge. Three additional blades are angled away from this central stem, 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 join between this blade and the central one is visible on the flat underside. The inside edge is straight, curving around at the tip, then tapering out slightly, till it reaches a rounded projecting spur, with a second, smaller, convex sided spur just below. This second spur (unlike that seen on 1934.8.120) does not have a sharpened edge. A second blade projects at right angles from the end of the central blade; this also tapers to a rounded tip, with the outer edge being concave sided and the inner edge convex; a third, broader blade continues from the end of the central blade, 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 only slight thinning around the edges of the angled blades. A carrying loop is attached to the iron tang just above the handle. This is made from a single cord formed from 8 narrow strips of reddish brown hide (Pantone 4705C), plaited around a central core of some light yellowish brown fibrous plant material; the cord is round in section. This has been doubled over to form a loop on one side, with a knot at its base; the two cord strands are then separated again, with one passing around either side of the tang, then fastened on the other side by thin fibrous strands; there is a similar binding 17 mm further down. The two cords then separate, with a knot at either end and the long strands hanging as a loose fringe below. Length of object 443 mm, length of bound handle area 68.8 mm, width of handle 26.5 mm, thickness of handle 9.9 mm; width of central blade 26.5 mm, thickness of central blade 1.8 mm, length of lower angled blade 213 mm, width of lower angled blade 49.3 mm, length across second and third blades 255 mm, width of second blade 47.5 mm, width of third blade, including spur, 95 mm, and thickness at cutting edges 0.01 mm. Complete and intact. There is damage to some blade edges, with several nicks in it and the ends curled over in some areas; this may indicate that the knife has been used as a weapon. The iron body is an opaque silver gray (Pantone 423C), and in good condition; the handle binding is a darker reddish brown colour, with some surface corrosion.

The actual collector of this item is not specified, but it was obtained some time before 1940, and presented to the Pitt Rivers Museum by either Charles Gabriel Seligman or his wife Brenda Zara Seligman. It is said to have been found in the Nuba hills of Kordofan, but the cultural object of the object lies further south. This general type of throwing knife 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’s informants gave it the 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).

The shape of this object is very close to that of 1934.8.120, from Yambio.

Rachael Sparks 18/8/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 468] The late Professor C.G. SELIGMAN, M.D., F.R.S. Miscellaneous collection presented in part by himself, June, 1940, and in part, after his death, by Mrs B.Z. Seligman, October, 1940. [p. 502] 1940.12.610 - Ditto [“Throwing-knife”], AZANDE type, said to have been found in NUBA HILLS (? ?), not used there, intrusive.

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

Written on object - Throwing-Knife, AZANDE type, said to have been found in NUBA HILLS (not used there, intrusive). d.d. Dr C.G. Seligman, 1940.12.610 [RTS 19/2/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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