a toss at messianic violence

“African throwing knives reside in that realm of especially imaginative human creations where expertise and experimentation have led to something amazing. They are clearly the product of much thought and hard labor, and it is certain that many minds contributed to their refinement and the multitude of specific types over decades and centuries. Indeed, a proliferation of deeply creative forms and conceptualizations of weapons, objects of stature, and symbols of leadership constitute an important chapter in the history of central African expressive culture. These objects—framed in highly effective iron technology and frequently exercised aesthetic acumen— fascinated Europeans, who seem to have begun collecting them and much other amazing weaponry as soon as their beachheads of trade and “exploration” were established.” ( Patrick McNaughton )

“Throwing knife, “ndumo” Mabo peoples, Zaire/Central Africa Iron H: 13 in. (33.02 cm)”

Although these knives belong now to the tranquil precincts of museums and private art collections, they were designed with a very different view; namely murder, mayhem and sacrifice. The tribes who made them inhabit a vast area of equatorial Africa, from Gabon deep into the lands of the Congo and northward into the Sahara. The art of making such weapons is dying out now; no one knows exactly when it began, but iron smelting in Africa dates back to several centuries before Christ. Throwing knives, like the ones presented in this blog, are generally from twelve to eighteen inches long. When hurled on the flat by a trained warrior or huntsman, they can fell a quarry at fifty years.

“This throwing knife is of the winged type and is an extremely functional weapon. It is thrown low and horizontal to the ground, spinning like a multi-armed and lethal boomerang. Throwing knives of this form are found across much of Central and Sudanic Africa and particularly along the Ubangi River, a long tributary of the Congo, where this example was collected over 100 years ago.”

Some elaborately decorated swords and knives have non-functional blades and are intended to be carried by chiefs to symbolize status and add glamor to the royal presence. Below:This ‘bird-headed’ knife is known as an onzil and was made by the Fang people of Gabon. The Fang are renowned for their refined sculptural forms, particularly reliquary heads. Although classified as a throwing knife, it is possible that the onzil was never used as a functional weapon. Instead, being closely associated with its owner, it was worn as a symbol of social status in life, and then placed on their tomb alongside the reliquary figures in death.

African throwing knife

Below:This is a throwing knife or kpinga of the Azande people, originally of Nubia, an ancient kingdom in the area covering southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Kpinga have three sharp blades of different shapes and this example has small barbs on its flat plate tang, which might have secured a now-missing handle binding. Even the front edge of the main shaft is sharpened.

Such weapons possessed strong cultural significance for the Azande. They were considered ‘Court Metal’, that is, weaponry produced only under the patronage of the powerful Avongara clan, and then distributed to the regiments of professional warriors in wartime. During large-scale warfare, full-time regiments were swelled by all able and willing adult males, and in this situation, the kpinga was a powerful symbol marking out the professional soldier from the land army. Kpinga were also closely associated with the masculine power of the Zande warrior, and were part of the marriage price paid by an Azande man to the family of his prospective wife.

“The kpinga was thrown in a particular way depending on its target. The presence of three blades set at different angles ensured that at whatever point it struck it was sure to inflict some damage, the large blade effecting a slice and the smaller blades delivering punctures. Even a blow by the blunt handle might cause considerable impact injury. “

Now these have been called a number of different names, most notably “Shongo”, “Kpinga”, “Sapa” and one of the most popular: “Hunga-Munga”, names which seem to be used, incorrectly, to describe nearly every form of this kind of blade. It is important to remember that, as you can see from just the  examples above, there are actually many different variations on this blade, each from their own unique African tribe; many of them were not named, and the ones that were likely had a unique name depending on where it was made and which tribe it was from. But one thing is universally certain, these are some serious throwing blades, no matter categorization and terminology used.

“Probably collected by John Petherick in 1858, and shipped back to England the following year. Acquired by Pitt Rivers, who sent this object to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874.”

To safely control such a weapon in battle, you need a handle. But adding handles always reduces the chances for a throwing weapon to stick, due to the possibility of the handle hitting the target.

Their solution was to build a small handle into the design, and skillfully position the blades so that the desired balance of the weapon was not negatively affected, angling all of the points in one direction, and then shrouding the handle with a blade pointing in the same direction. The end result? A directional throwing knife with almost the same the sticking potential of the much smaller shuriken, the mass of a throwing axe, with a safe, built in throwing handle for maximum power and control.

“Throwing blade held at Tibbu-Männer The cradle of throwing knives is the Sahara. Most likely they evolved from throwing sticks in the area of Kordofan and Tibesti in the Sudan and Chad.”

“What was even scarier about these weapons is that their design is such that, if they hit the side of an opponents shield, its rotating momentum and mass would keep it rotating long enough to cause it to hook on to the edge of the shield and rotate around it and hit the unfortunate victim on the other side. Talk about a clever (albeit very mean) design. Throw in their size, their sharp lines and (of course!) their many pointy bits, you can probably see why I like these weapons so much. Their dark metallic finish just adds to their evil charm. They are just so freaking cool and intimidating all at the same time, on so many levels… What more is there to say?”

“The Tuareg (also known as Twareg, Touareg, Amazigh, Imuhagh and Itargiyen, are a nomadic pastoralist people and the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Today the Tuareg inhabit parts of Niger, Mali, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso. “
This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>