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Old 16th August 2017, 08:23 PM   #1
Ian
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Default Old African knives

Africa is definitely not my bailiwick, but about 15-20 years ago I came across a number of old looking, large African knives with dark patinas that seemed very reasonably priced. In the process of getting my various boxes and closets of swords sorted out this summer, I thought I would put up some pics of five of these African knives for further identification and discussion.

I apologize for not having cleaned them, and that raises the question of whether they should be cleaned, with the iron blades brought back to bright, or left as they are with the patina of age.

After looking at a number of reference texts and our online resources, here are my thoughts about where they may be from:

A. Kuba (hilt wrapped with leather strip) OAL = 24 inches
B. Kuba (copper wire-wrapped hilt) OAL = 22.5 inches
C. Tetala (hilt wrapped with rattan strip) OAL = 19 inches
D. Kusu (copper wire-wrapped hilt) OAL = 18 inches
E. Tetala (copper wire-wrapped hilt) OAL = 18.75 inches

A, B, C and E show signs of wear and use. These could be 19th C. The remaining one (D) looks more recent and unused.

I would appreciate hearing from our African experts as to where these knives originate.

Ian.
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Old 17th August 2017, 12:40 AM   #2
Bob A
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I have a sword closely resembling your D photo. (FWIW, your E is not appearing in the photo array).

Mine differs from the pictured example by having a very short hilt, with no sign of ever having the heavy, blocky pommel as seen on yours. Mine was described as "Azande" on Artzi's site, and you can see it if you care to search. The blade shape and decorations are quite similar to the photos of the Tetela swords I've seen.

I don't know much about the area or the blades, but I was enthralled by the shape of the blade. By the way, my blade is extremely thin and lightweight; it could be used as a weapon, but I'd prefer something heavier for social work.

There was a light dusting of red rust on mine, which I attacked with 0000 steel wool soaked in Eezox, applying and wiping clean until he active rust was eliminated. A coat of Renaissance wax was applied to prevent further oxidation.

Regarding cleaning, my inclination is to stop active rust, but leave blades as close to the condition in which they were found. My limited understanding is that the decision to clean, and the extent thereof, varies from place to place. While aggressive cleaning might highlight some design factors, and can improve the aesthetics of a weapon, that view is limited by the preferences of the person doing the cleaning, and might well be contrary to the original maker's concept. Less is more, in my opinion, at least until such time as I might have a deeper understanding of the item, and how it fits into its milieu.
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Old 17th August 2017, 01:50 AM   #3
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Hi Ian,
Far from being one of the African experts around here, so not adding more in that regard, what I do want to note is the outstanding way you present these weapons for discussion.

I wish this format was the standard for presentation of examples in all queries in threads, as here they are in a group and numbered with great photos, along with tentative classification and notes numbered accordingly.

This makes comments toward any one of the number of items easily specified and avoids misunderstandings or misplaced observations.
You have a very professional manner indeed, and adding your own preliminary notes and research sets the pace well.

Bob, great response and could not agree more! Maximum restraint on cleaning , and checking any active corrosion is of course prudent, but patination is in a sense (most cases) time inherent in the weapon, sort of history itself.
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Old 17th August 2017, 03:24 AM   #4
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Bob: Thanks for the thoughts. I looked up your Asande knife on the Oriental-Arms site and it does have some similarities to my D example. There is no rust on these, but the lighting seems to have added a reddish hue to the blades here and there.

Jim: Thank you for the kind words. Good to see you back.

Ian.
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Old 17th August 2017, 06:49 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Africa is definitely not my bailiwick, but about 15-20 years ago I came across a number of old looking, large African knives with dark patinas that seemed very reasonably priced. In the process of getting my various boxes and closets of swords sorted out this summer, I thought I would put up some pics of five of these African knives for further identification and discussion.

I apologize for not having cleaned them, and that raises the question of whether they should be cleaned, with the iron blades brought back to bright, or left as they are with the patina of age.

After looking at a number of reference texts and our online resources, here are my thoughts about where they may be from:

A. Kuba (hilt wrapped with leather strip) OAL = 24 inches
B. Kuba (copper wire-wrapped hilt) OAL = 22.5 inches
C. Tetala (hilt wrapped with rattan strip) OAL = 19 inches
D. Kusu (copper wire-wrapped hilt) OAL = 18 inches
E. Tetala (copper wire-wrapped hilt) OAL = 18.75 inches

A, B, C and E show signs of wear and use. These could be 19th C. The remaining one (D) looks more recent and unused.

I would appreciate hearing from our African experts as to where these knives originate.

Ian.


Hi Ian,

Nice collection, I am no African expert but swords A and B look like Ngombe / Poto (Zairean) swords to me.
Miguel
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Old 18th August 2017, 01:24 PM   #6
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Hello Ian,

some interesting Central African knives/swords. I am not an expert by African blades but I have Zirngibl/Kubetz "panga na visu", a very good reference book. Another very good reference you can find here: http://www.memoire-africaine.com/armes2.html

Like Miguel I think that A & B are Ngombe or Poto knives from Congo (not Zaire), C will be also a Congo knife, possible Mbole, So, Topoke, Lokele, Mba or Genya tribe. D is clearly a Saka knife, also Congo. E is most possible a Konda/Kundu/Mongo knife, Congo as well. Compare with the given link, you will find similar examples.

Personally I would clean the blades from this knives, see also inside the link, they look much better with clean blades.

Best regards,
Detlef
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Old 18th August 2017, 07:14 PM   #7
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Hello Detlef:

Thank you for the link to that very informative web site. It seems that the more information that I look at, the more confused these attributions become. For example, example D that I posted, and you feel confidently is Saka, appears in Afrikanische Waffen (African Weapons) by Fischer & Zirngibl (p. 124) Fig. 221 where it is labeled as Kusu (see attached image from that reference).

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Old 18th August 2017, 07:41 PM   #8
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Hi Ian,

like said, I am far away to be an expert by Congo blades, I find them very interesting and I've had and sold some very, very nice pieces and all my "knowledge" coming from the forum, panga na visu from Zirngibl and from the collecting in the link I posted. So far I know are the Saka and Kusu are neighbouring tribes but I am unsure.
Attached is a very similar knife like yours taken from the provided link and described as Saka.

Best regards,
Detlef
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Old 22nd August 2017, 08:45 AM   #9
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I agree with Sajen.

A & B = Ngombe, Poto
C = Lokele, So, Topoke
D = Mongo group (mostly referred to the Saka) - nothing to do with the Azande.
E = Mongo group (mostly referred to the Konda).

Also, there are many errors in the book "Afrikanische Waffen" (African Weapons) by Fischer & Zirngibl. His last book ("Panga na Visu", which I would recommend to all interested in African weapons, and not expensive) is better, but contains some fake weapons..

C might be the oldest one (end 19th or around 1900), a small iron pommel is of older age than the larger pommels. The others I would say early 20th century).

I would definitely clean the blades, as at the time, the owners would do the same. They were proud of their weapons and would keep them bright and clean all the time.
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Old 22nd August 2017, 09:49 AM   #10
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I know that we have discussed the matter of cleaning and restoration many times within this group and it is remarkable how diverse opinion on this matter is , both in degree and technique . However I cannot agree with the notion that we should take our cue from the original maker or owner . In that case we ought to not only clean our blades bright but also sharpen them and periodically change both the grips , scabbards (and bowstrings if appropriate ) , not to mention redecorating and colouring faded wood or leather ! My view is gentle preservation rather than attempts at restoration and if a prospective item for my collection is not as perfect as I would wish , then I either accept it until a better example comes along or do without it altogether . I remember being told as a young coin collector 'no matter how much you poish a coin , you cant make it new again ' !
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Old 22nd August 2017, 02:08 PM   #11
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I only speak about cleaning/preserving the metal, which is not the same as altering a weapon by sharpening its edge or colouring feathers.
Cleaning would reveal details of the forging process, beautiful patterns or copper decorations/inlay.
Daily use would keep the weapons in good condition. If stored or unused for a long time, they get dirty and rusty. Rust is not a patina.

Iíll add as an example some pictures of a nice sword from South Congo. The first picture is when I bought it. When cleaning Iíve found a nice surprise in the form of a great and unusual decoration (figure and flower) and 2 tribal repairs, a brass and lead inlay probably to fill up gaps that occurred while forging the blade.
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Old 22nd August 2017, 02:57 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pieje
I only speak about cleaning/preserving the metal, which is not the same as altering a weapon by sharpening its edge or colouring feathers.
Cleaning would reveal details of the forging process, beautiful patterns or copper decorations/inlay.
Daily use would keep the weapons in good condition. If stored or unused for a long time, they get dirty and rusty. Rust is not a patina.

Iíll add as an example some pictures of a nice sword from South Congo. The first picture is when I bought it. When cleaning Iíve found a nice surprise in the form of a great and unusual decoration (figure and flower) and 2 tribal repairs, a brass and lead inlay probably to fill up gaps that occurred while forging the blade.


I do agree with you , the removal of rust is most important and I would not suggest otherwise . However the beautiful decoration of your blade would disappear in time if it was constantly buffed and polished over time. The fact that you have discovered it on the blade is a testament to the lack of cleaning afforded to it by its original owner . Much of the decorative detail on Georgian and Victorian officers swords is now worn because of the military fashion of 'making things shiny ' !
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Old 22nd August 2017, 08:11 PM   #13
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When kept in good condition, there was no need to aggressively clean or polish. But such weapons like mine (and many others brought back at the time) were no knives for everyday use, but parade, prestige and ritual weapons, only taken out on occasions and most care was given to them. All decorations have a meaning and should be visible.

But it's also my opinion that cleaning doesn't mean making shiny like a mirror.
Blades C and D from the original post are good enough, but I would definitely clean A and B. But as you said, everyone has to make up his own mind about this.

Choose for yourself which condition you like the most :-)
[Photo & collection: Luc Lefebvre]
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Old 22nd August 2017, 08:31 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pieje
When kept in good condition, there was no need to aggressively clean or polish. But such weapons like mine (and many others brought back at the time) were no knives for everyday use, but parade, prestige and ritual weapons, only taken out on occasions and most care was given to them. All decorations have a meaning and should be visible.

But it's also my opinion that cleaning doesn't mean making shiny like a mirror.
Blades C and D from the original post are good enough, but I would definitely clean A and B. But as you said, everyone has to make up his own mind about this.

Choose for yourself which condition you like the most :-)
[Photo & collection: Luc Lefebvre]


I like the condition that you have brought them back to .... the removal of dirt and rust is always a good idea , followed by careful steps to preserve the item .
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Old 22nd August 2017, 09:47 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thinreadline
I like the condition that you have brought them back to .... the removal of dirt and rust is always a good idea , followed by careful steps to preserve the item .

Agree!
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Old 23rd August 2017, 01:38 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pieje
I only speak about cleaning/preserving the metal, which is not the same as altering a weapon by sharpening its edge or colouring feathers.
Cleaning would reveal details of the forging process, beautiful patterns or copper decorations/inlay.
Daily use would keep the weapons in good condition. If stored or unused for a long time, they get dirty and rusty. Rust is not a patina.

Iíll add as an example some pictures of a nice sword from South Congo. The first picture is when I bought it. When cleaning Iíve found a nice surprise in the form of a great and unusual decoration (figure and flower) and 2 tribal repairs, a brass and lead inlay probably to fill up gaps that occurred while forging the blade.


I believe Pieje's stance on cleaning to be correct, and he has explained/illustrated his reasoning clearly and succinctly. But of course, great care must be taken in the cleaning process. If in doubt best to leave alone.

Great Congo knife by the way, never seen an incised human figure on these before !
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Old 23rd August 2017, 04:30 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
I believe Pieje's stance on cleaning to be correct, and he has explained/illustrated his reasoning clearly and succinctly. But of course, great care must be taken in the cleaning process. If in doubt best to leave alone.


Agree complete!
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Old 23rd August 2017, 08:18 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Great Congo knife by the way, never seen an incised human figure on these before !

Me neither!
I also have a Benge sword (Congo) in my collection with a human figure, but this type of decoration is very rarely seen on Congo blades.
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Old 12th September 2020, 08:37 PM   #19
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Hereby 3 daggers of mine: all Congolese, purchased from the collection of a Belgian monastery in Belgium which closed its doors recently
All dated before 1940 ( gifts from missionaries between 1910 - 1939)

the biggest one: Saka Mongo

Length 52 cm, handle 17 cm, blade 35 cm (top width 11,5 cm)

the middle one with the "eye": Ba - Tetela

Length 41 cm, handle 10,5 cm, eye 5 to 6 cm, blade 24 cm ( top width 9 cm )

the smallest one Kuba / Tetela :

Length 24 cm, handle 8 cm, blade15,5 cm ( top width 10,5 cm )
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Old 12th September 2020, 08:39 PM   #20
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2nd one
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Old 12th September 2020, 08:40 PM   #21
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3rd one
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Old 12th September 2020, 08:45 PM   #22
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and 2 short swords of the Boa : handle iron with copper 42 cm , blade 34 cm also before 1940
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Old 13th September 2020, 07:59 AM   #23
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Another example of cleaning.
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Old 13th September 2020, 05:14 PM   #24
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I completely agree with Pieje, often what is defined as "patina" is nothing more than dust and dirt accumulated in the places where these blades were exposed; I happened to have a large Boa sword which had the handle covered with what looked like a flat brass wire (seen in the first photo). When I started a light cleaning, the brass turned out for what it was, a silvery metal: the golden color of the brass was just dirt, perhaps cigarette smoke ... (second photo).
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Old 14th September 2020, 07:33 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gp
and 2 short swords of the Boa : handle iron with copper 42 cm , blade 34 cm also before 1940


so what would be your advice concering cleaning these 2 Boa knives:
leave it as they presently are or still clean it? thnx a lot
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Old 14th September 2020, 07:44 PM   #26
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some nice pics of a Ekonda (Mongo) leader (Nkumu) in the former Belgian Congo

and interesting info in this link http://www.forensicfashion.com/1878...eseWarrior.html
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Old 15th September 2020, 02:33 PM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gp
so what would be your advice concering cleaning these 2 Boa knives:
leave it as they presently are or still clean it? thnx a lot


I tell you what I would do: cleaning the blades with a weak acid (classically white vinegar, a little diluted) and a rough rag (never anything that could cause scratches!) If the blades were very dirty or rusty (but these are not ) you can use very fine steel wool, gently. Be very careful with the blackened central part of the right knife, use double delicacy!
Proceed calmly and slowly, repeating the cleaning many times, trying to remove as much rust as possible.
The handles: for me the ideal would be to use a diluted metal cleaning product to reduce oxidation but avoid making the copper and brass elements shiny as if they were new.
But this is a matter of personal taste.
When you have finished removing what you think should be eliminated, proceed with mineral oil and a soft rag (wax on, wax off ...). In the end, the knife should not be greasy, just polished.
This is how I behave, but I imagine there are people in the forum who are much more experienced than me.
Good job to you.
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Old 15th September 2020, 05:31 PM   #28
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grazie mille Duccio !
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Old 15th September 2020, 05:46 PM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Duccio
I tell you what I would do: cleaning the blades with a weak acid (classically white vinegar, a little diluted) and a rough rag (never anything that could cause scratches!) If the blades were very dirty or rusty (but these are not ) you can use very fine steel wool, gently. Be very careful with the blackened central part of the right knife, use double delicacy!
Proceed calmly and slowly, repeating the cleaning many times, trying to remove as much rust as possible.
The handles: for me the ideal would be to use a diluted metal cleaning product to reduce oxidation but avoid making the copper and brass elements shiny as if they were new.
But this is a matter of personal taste.
When you have finished removing what you think should be eliminated, proceed with mineral oil and a soft rag (wax on, wax off ...). In the end, the knife should not be greasy, just polished.
This is how I behave, but I imagine there are people in the forum who are much more experienced than me.
Good job to you.


I just got this Konda and think to leave the wooden handle untouched, except for a little oil to keep it from drying out...but have to see when it arrives what the white colour is. Your thoughts concerning the white ...prego...?
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Old 15th September 2020, 09:20 PM   #30
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Just clean (in this case) with simple steelwool 000 and 00 and some oil like WD40 or ballistol.

Duccio, the yellow is probably varnish?
Wire seems aluminium.
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