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Old 4th August 2016, 01:20 PM   #1
Marcus
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Default African "throwing knives"

There are many different styles of African “throwing knives”. I attach pictures of two, a so call Fang Bird’s head type, and a representative of the many different types associated with the various Kirdi (non-Muslim) tribes. These are often of complex irregular shape, perhaps with the idea that the more edges there are the better chance you will hit something if you do indeed throw it.
Can anyone speak on the issue of the ballistic character of such pieces of metal, or what their effectiveness would be when used in the dense forests of Africa? It seems likely to me that if some one threw them and missed, the intended target would just picked them up and throw them back. A pilum, the javelin of Roman legionnaires, had a wood shaft and then a relatively thin metal shank before the spearhead. The idea was that the shanks would be likely to bend if the spear hit ground rather than flesh and this would render the pilum ballistically compromised. Does the same idea hold for these items?
To what degree were these really used as weapons, or were they mainly ceremonial/symbolic? I know that they were also sometimes used as currency, although perhaps currency is too western a term. As I understand it, some of these items might be included in a bride price or tributary gift.

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Old 4th August 2016, 02:51 PM   #2
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The upper knife is probably not a Fang, but a KOTA knife (Fang birdheads have longer and straight handles). These were definitely not used as throwing knife, the balance is not good at all. These were in fact cutting tools/weapons, mostly used for ceremonial purposes (Perrois, 1985).
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Old 4th August 2016, 05:56 PM   #3
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Excellent topic Marcus!!!
In "African Arms and Armour", Christopher Spring noted the characteristically western propensity to try to explain the use and dynamics of every curious and unusual weapon found in ethnographica. I do not recall offhand the details of that reference, but wanted to note it here as the discussion develops.

As far as I recall, it does seem that there were a degree of these which were actually used as weapons, and much as with thrown spears, they were somewhat expendable in initial 'shock action' in combat.
Despite that notable use, it also seems that in tribal warfare, the pitched battle was not always inevitable at the outset, and often fearsome looking weapons were brandished as adversaries faced off.

I think as Marcus suggests, a great course for discussion would be, examples we have determined were indeed used as weapons and thrown and which were dynamically improbable as projectiles.
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Old 4th August 2016, 06:15 PM   #4
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Marcus - if you don't already have the book, I can recommend the very detailed analysis of these weapons by Peter Westerdijk "The African Throwing Knife".

Certainly many throwing knives were made as weapons, not all to be thrown though. There was also a large element of display/symbol of power/ethnic identity etc involved as well...
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Old 4th August 2016, 06:56 PM   #5
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Default ouch

The African Throwing Knife - A Style Analysis
WESTERDIJK, P.
Cheapest copy I could find comes in for about $220 and copies go up from there.

Also available is:
The Cutting Edge: West Central African 19th Century Throwing Knives in the National Museum of Ethnology Leiden
Schmidt, A. M.; Westerdijk, P.

These start at $20 Is anyone familiar with this more affordable book?
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Old 4th August 2016, 08:07 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus
The African Throwing Knife - A Style Analysis
WESTERDIJK, P.
Cheapest copy I could find comes in for about $220 and copies go up from there.

Also available is:
The Cutting Edge: West Central African 19th Century Throwing Knives in the National Museum of Ethnology Leiden
Schmidt, A. M.; Westerdijk, P.

These start at $20 Is anyone familiar with this more affordable book?


Yes, a must have, good price!
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Old 4th August 2016, 08:30 PM   #7
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Before going to great expense with this, I assume you already have the Chris Spring book. On line there are many PDF's and various references to specific forms and other details. It is always good to mine through all of this as often reviews are intermingled and can give you insight into whether certain titles are worth the exorbitant prices.
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Old 5th August 2016, 01:50 AM   #8
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Default Chris Spring book

Title or URL please
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Old 5th August 2016, 03:00 AM   #9
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The Cutting Edge: West Central African 19th Century Throwing Knives in the National Museum of Ethnology Leiden
Schmidt, A. M.; Westerdijk, P.

A good pictorial reference book. Not a huge amount of information, but a basic explanation of how the museum collection was gathered, some ballistic information for the knives (limited) and then the photographs with dimensions and materials of construction. At the price point, certainly worth getting hold of.
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Old 5th August 2016, 07:02 PM   #10
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Default Books

Is the Chris Springs book "AFRICAN ARMS & ARMOR"?
I have not found any pdf versions.
I have a copy of the cutting edge on order.
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Old 5th August 2016, 07:16 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus
Is the Chris Springs book "AFRICAN ARMS & ARMOR"?
I have not found any pdf versions.
I have a copy of the cutting edge on order.



Sorry Marcus, yes that's it. I don't believe it is on PDF, but its not awfully expensive. It is a great overview (in my opinion) and establishes good benchmarks for further study. As I noted, regarding the throwing knives, there is a good deal of passim notes included in reviews of these involved in sales, auctions etc. which cumulatively give pretty good perspective.

Not to forget of course, the fantastic archives we have here using the search !!
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Old 6th August 2016, 01:46 PM   #12
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Default Ngbaka knife

Ships from Oriental Arms tomorrow.

I can imagine that the ballistic properties of this one might be pretty good. Of course, using one of these for hunting, you would not have to worry about it being thrown back at you.
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Old 7th August 2016, 01:12 PM   #13
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Second one is: Sengese, Cameroon, Matakam People, Mandara mountains.
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Old 8th August 2016, 02:38 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus
Ships from Oriental Arms tomorrow.

I can imagine that the ballistic properties of this one might be pretty good. Of course, using one of these for hunting, you would not have to worry about it being thrown back at you.



Absolutely!!
This one is really intriguing geometrically, and brings to mind the aspect of some of these being used ceremonially, or probably more toward 'looking' fearful as far as being brandished in the African warfare prospect as warring tribes faced off. In either case, the sometimes almost bizarre shapes of not just these throwing knives, but many weapon blades, such as the 'hwi' in Benin with elaborate designs and openwork (as seen in 'Marti' excerpts in Spring, op.cit), seem to be intended to elicit power, fear, respect etc.

Congo Blades, great photo, thank you for adding that to really add context to these .
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