Larim wrist knife

Larim wrist knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1979.20.136 .1 .2
[Southern Sudan] Eastern Equatoria
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1979
Iron Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Aluminium Metal , Plant Fibre
Forged (Metal) , Hammered , Incised
L = 139.5 mm, W = 91.7 mm, th blade 1 mm [RTS 5/3/2004]
68 g
Local Name:
Other Owners:
Purchased by Patti Langton for 2, probably between 20th and 25th March 1979, as part of the British Institute in East Africa's expedition to the southern Sudan [RTS 1/6/2004].
Field Collector:
Patti Langton
PRM Source:
Patti Langton
Purchased 1979
Collected Date:
20 - 25 March 1979
Wrist knife consisting of a blade made from a thin sheet of iron, hammered flat. This has a sharp outer cutting edge, which is curved at one end, the sides then becoming straight and and extending into two arms with slightly rounded tips. The inside edges of these arms are straight, but taper out slightly towards their bases, where each has a short spur. Below this is the curved inner edge of the weapon, which has been cut in an oval shape to fit around the wrist. A series of small notches have been cut into the inner edges of each arm at top and bottom, to form a slightly serrated blade; the central part has been left plain. Each arm has been decorated at its base on both upper and lower surfaces with an x-shaped cross made of two intersecting incised lines; one of these has been poorly executed and it looks as though the tool may have slipped leaving an extra line across the spur at that point.

The knife is fitted with two sheath parts; the inner sheath, which has not been individually numbered, fits around the inside edge of the weapon to protect the wrist. This is made from a piece of light orange brown hide (Pantone 1395C) that has been bent over the metal edge, and then held in place across the open end between the spurs with an aluminium 'clip' made from sheet metal that has been formed into a half cylinder, with a projecting flange at either end. The long, open ends of this half cylinder have been only roughly finished and there are still tool marks visible on its surface. Around the inside edge of this sheath on two thirds of its length is a plaited length of what may be vegetable fibre. The sheath is currently quite loose fitting, and this fibre may have been added to improve the fit. The sheath was not removed from the object and so could not be studied in closer detail. A second sheath, numbered 1979.20.136.2, has been fitted around the outside edge of the blade and unlike the inner sheath, would have been removed before engaging the opponent. This has been made in a similar manner to the inner sheath, but from a longer piece of hide, that has been bent over the sharp edge. This extends beyond the pointed arm tips by 7 and 15 mm respectively. These ends have been secured by short aluminium 'clips', made from sheet metal bent into cylinders with a flat ended flange at one end, and a simple flat edge at the other. These cylinders have an open seam along the length on one side. Hammering marks are visible on their surfaces. The sheath was not fully removed for study, but no plaited fibre was visible on the part that was removed.

Complete and intact; there is no obvious signs of poison on the blade. The iron is in good condition, currently a silvery gray colour (Pantone 423C); the aluminium is a lighter silver colour, that could not be matched to the Pantone chart. Length (including sheath) 139.5 mm, width (including sheath) 91.7 mm; thickness of body 1 mm; thickness of outer sheath 6.3 mm; diameter of small aluminium sheath clips at flange 11.7 mm; diameter of large aluminium inner sheath clip body 9.1 mm; Length across inside edge of inner sheath 49 mm, width across inside edge of inner sheath 34.3 mm; approximate weight (with sheaths) is 68 grams.

Purchased by Patti Langton from the Larim for £2, probably between 20th and 25th March 1979, as part of the British Institute in East Africa's expedition to the southern Sudan. No specific place of collection was recorded, and John Mack has commented that the form of this type of object does not seem to vary between different Larim clan areas. It was used as a fighting knife by men, and has the local name
nyepel. Similar wrist knives and sheaths are found amongst a number of other groups, including the Acholi, Turkana, Bari and Murle; their use spread to other groups such as the Toposa and Didinga slightly later than the rest (C. Spring 1993, African Arms and Armour, p. 115-6). Mack has also mentioned their use by the Jiye and Latuka.

Rachael Sparks 8/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry - [p. 185] 1979.20 (.1 - 206) P[urchase] MISS PATTI LANGTON, DEPT. of ETHNOLOGY & PREHISTORY, OXFORD. Collection made by Patti Langton during the British Institute in East Africa's expedition to the Southern Sudan; Jan. - April 1979. The collection was made in three culture areas during the dry season. The amount paid for each object is listed if the information is known. In Jan. 1979 £1 is equivalent to 95 piastres (pt.) Sudanese. This documentation is based largely upon Patti's own list of objects and her notes on these. Sometimes objects included in the Pitt Rivers alootment of the collection do not appear on her list and have been added here. See Related Documents file as well. [p. 204] 1979.20.136 - 193 SOUTHERN SUDAN the LARIM The Larim live about 50 miles west of Kapoeta in the eastern corner of S. Sudan. They are a non-Nilotic pastoral people, living in permanent mountain villages. They are part of the Didinga-Longarim-Murle language group. They live in the Boya Hills - Boya is the Topasa (neighbouring group) name for the Larim, which is also used by the Administration. Longarim is the Didinga's name for them but they call themselves the Larim, and that is used here. [p. 205] The LARIM The collection was made in two parts. The "PL" labelled material was collected during Pat Langton's stay in a village in the Northern Larim area. The "∆" labelled material was collected by Jill Goudie, one of the archaeologists on the Expedition, from the base camp LARYOK, among the Southern Larim. Money is known among the Larim but it is used only for buying beads for women from Kapoeta, or for the few members of the group who would go to Juba. The women especially were more interested in exchange gifts of salt, cloth & soap. The Larim material is documented in three parts: a) General Larim pieces - no information as to which section of the Larim it comes from b) the "PL" Collection from the Northern Larim, from three of the eight Northern Larim clans c) the Southern Larim material collected by Jill Goudie, numbered "∆". [p. 205] 1979.20.136 - 139 GENERAL LARIM [p. 205] 1979.20.136 Man's iron fighting bracelet, nyepel . With skin and metal protective covers. Very sharp. Cost £2. [Drawing showing hide protective covers, iron blades and metal protective covers and length of 14 cm.].
Additional Accession Book Entry [below accession number in red biro] - A5-F35-35.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 24/5/2004].

Related Documents File - 1979.20 contains a typed packing list, which has been annotated; a typed list of objects arranged by Langton collection numbers and with pencil and biro annotations, and a handwritten list of objects by museum number, essentially repeating this information and annotated with PRM photo numbers in red. This handwritten list seems to be the direct source for the accession book entry. This object appears as an addition at the end of the Langton list, under the heading 'Larim' as 'man's fighting bracelet NYEPEL , with skin and metal protective covers. Very sharp!' along with a pencil sketch showing the various parts. No collection number is given. There is also a letter from Lynn Williamson (PRM) to John Mack (Museum of Mankind), dated 25th June 1980, asking for identification of this object - 'Pat does say it is Larim, but I wonder if you can place it in a particular clan, Kisawo or Koyok, or Kerenge?'. Mack replied on 1st July 1980 - 'the fighting bracelet will certainly be Larim but as far as I know it will not be significant what clan the person from whom it was collected belonged to. This year I have collected almost identical objects among the Toposa, Turkana, Jiye and Latuka all in this same general area. The reason for doing this was precisely to show that at this level of material culture, the objects are not fashioned in such a way as to assert tribal identity - even though by collecting them I was aware we were acquiring duplicates'.

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