Ethnographic Arms & Armour
 

Go Back   Ethnographic Arms & Armour > Discussion Forums > Ethnographic Weapons

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 4th September 2010, 04:34 PM   #1
katana
Member
 
katana's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Kent
Posts: 2,653
Default Very old ? Zulu Assegai

Hi,
just acquired a Zulu assegia, shaft is shortened either by damage in use or possibly a shortened 'bring back' ( Officers had the privilages of being able to take home larger pieces....lower ranks had to pack their souveniers with their own items, so often spears were shortened to take up less space).
The 'break' is very old either way.

The wire work is predominately iron ....with 'bands' of thicker brass wire-work between. The Zulu stabbing spear was held fairly close to the spearhead ...giving a 'working length' of approx. 24" (dependant on individual preference) The patina on the shaft clearly shows the constant handling at this point
Effectively the spear would be used as a thrusting short sword ...and perhaps explains the lack of swords in Zulu culture.

Judging by the patina and the use of iron wire I believe this is possibly early/mid 19th C .

Any comments or input would be gratefully recieved, thank you

Regards David
Attached Images
      
katana is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 5th September 2010, 07:26 AM   #2
Ron Anderson
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Sydney Australia
Posts: 228
Default

Hi David

I'm actually South African born. Though I don't think I'm on expert on Zulu weapons by any means, the conventional wisdom on the assegai was that it was an innovation by Shaka Zulu himself. Prior to that spears were things that used to get thrown. This was throughout Southern African.

So, I guess, it's not really an explanation of why there are no swords among the zulus as their were no assegais prior to the early 1800s. I first started collecting African swords that were flooding into Johannesurg from central Africa (most notably Zaire). These were the first African swords I had ever seen. Swords are simply not part of the armoury of most Southern Bantu speaking people, and that includes Zulu and the other numerous ethnic groups in that area.

I do not really know the reason for that. Perhaps it owes more to the existence of the knobkerrie, which really is ubiquitous in that part of the world. Interesting to note that swords seem to be absent among Polynesians (another group that opted for clubs for closer combat).

Just a thought.

Nice assegai. Those things are very hard to find. I would guess your estimation of the age on that is pretty accurate. I would guess its a Zulu War bringback?

Ron

I'd say your
Ron Anderson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 5th September 2010, 08:40 AM   #3
kronckew
Member
 
kronckew's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: CSA Consulate, Rm. 101, Glos. UK: p.s. - Real Dogs Have Feathering.
Posts: 3,543
Default

Shaka kaSenzangakhona basically re-invented the roman short sword in a spear format he was familiar with. the zulu king figured out that for disciplined professional soldiers with an organised and trained shield wall in close combat against a mob of undisciplined 'warriors' a short stabbing weapon was the best. roman writers discussed that a 3in deep stab to the body was normally sufficient. use your shield offensively to hook the opponents shield to his right, stab, push, trample & keep moving and stabbing. let the ranks behind finish off any wounded as they follow. throwing spears, like roman pilum, were used for shock just prior to the hand-to-hand collision.

he also discovered the cannae attack with his bull formation, engage the centre, then flank and surround. worked for hannibal, Shaka kaSenzangakhona, Cetshwayo kaMpande and stormin' norman shwartzkopf...

an example of parallel evolution
kronckew is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 5th September 2010, 09:04 AM   #4
Ron Anderson
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Sydney Australia
Posts: 228
Default

Effectively, the assegai was a 19th century phenomenon. Extremely formidable in its day, largely because no on other ethnic groups were using it. It was a technological advantage of note. But it wasn't used before the 19th century, and it's since become obsolete. The knobkerrie is still widely used and carried, as both a weapon and a mace/symbol of authority. However, by far the most common and effective traditional weapon in the region is the AK47.
Ron Anderson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 6th September 2010, 03:40 PM   #5
TimW
Member
 
TimW's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 54
Default

I recently obtained a similar spear. I'll try to post some pictures - the shaft of my spear is complete and ends with a knob.
TimW is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 7th September 2010, 09:26 PM   #6
katana
Member
 
katana's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Kent
Posts: 2,653
Default

Thank you for all your replies

Hi Ron ,
personally I still feel that the short stabbing spear negated the use of the sword in Zulu culture. According to several historical sources the Iklwa spear was used to stab and slash.
A number of Polynesian cultures did have a sword type weapon in their arsenal, Due to the unavailability of metal ore most older weapons were manufactured from wood, stone, shells and animal teeth/bone. Often sharpened shells, shark teeth, knapped rock (and similar) would be tied/bonded to flatten clubs to create a serrated cutting edge.

Hi Wayne
thanks for your input, Shaka's tactics were certainly 'Romanesque', and very effective too.

Hi Tim,
yes, please post some pictures


I have read that the Zulu had 20 named types of spear (Pitt Rivers Museum)

The Iklwa (Shaka's 'brainchild') is accepted as the name of the 'stabbing spear'....however the blade has a distinctive shape with a long tapering point ...said to be around 12" long, with a shaft of around 24". (interestingly these are often shown being held mid point of the shaft ....further evidence that around 24" used as it 'working length' ??? )

Many 'stabbing spears' with provenance to the Anglo-Zulu war period have the same blade as my own posted. The question is ....are all stabbing spears Iklwa or is there another name for those with differing blade shapes ???

Also strange is the fact that Shaka's portrait (this, apparently is the only one), shows him holding an 'ordinary' spear

"Only known drawing of King Shaka standing with the long throwing assegai and the heavy shield in 1824 - four years before his death"

Kind Regards David



.
Attached Images
 
katana is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th September 2010, 04:42 AM   #7
Ron Anderson
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Sydney Australia
Posts: 228
Default

Hi David

Thanks for your reply. As I said, I'm no expert in this area. However, I have a bit of a background in South African history, which was my academic discipline.

I guess the thing that I find puzzling is that there really was no significant Zulu culture before Shaka.

The Zulu nation was essentially created by Shaka. Before that,Zulu were a small insignificant group within the wide Nguni grouping. It was all very loose. So the fact that there were no swords used broadly at that time among any of the tribes in the region suggests that it simply wasn't in the mindset of those cultures.

In a sense, I suppose the assegai was created to fill that void. Rather than the assegai negating the need for swords, it was probably the opposite the absence of swords at that time created the need to invent something like the assegai.

Regards
Ron

PS. I do take your point about the variety of sword-type weapons among Polynesians.
Ron Anderson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th September 2010, 07:28 AM   #8
Ron Anderson
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Sydney Australia
Posts: 228
Default

The fact that that area has not got its own clearly identifiable type of sword is odd. The sword is so universal one would expect to find it everywhere. And it is common elsewhere in Africa.

However, the fact remains that tribal groups in South Africa seemed to buck that trend. Unless I'm wrong and someone can point to the kinds of swords that were carried in South African areas at the time.

Just a little to the north, the Shona have their own swords and daggers, instantly recognisable.

But I suspect the assegai was quite possibly the first hand-to-hand type edged weapon used among the Nguni.

As I understand it, life before Shaka was considerably less violent. While there were wars, differences were settled with comparatively little bloodshed. Shaka effectively changed that and ushered in a period of extreme violence throughout the region (a kind of holocaust known as the difaqane). The assegai played a very big part in that, as did Shaka's complete social re-engineering of the tribes who fell under his influence.

He wasn't simply a military strategist. Under him, society was completely re-structured to support his wars. It was a revolution, and changed everything in Nguni society - from marriage contracts to wealth alotment. And it transformed the entire sub-continent.

In this respect, he truly was a 'Black Napoleon'. South Africa would never be the same again. There is still a 7 million strong 'Zulu' nation there, and such a group never really existed before Shaka.
Ron Anderson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th September 2010, 08:57 AM   #9
Tim Simmons
Member
 
Tim Simmons's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: What is still UK
Posts: 5,462
Default

Ron thanks for the clear thought. This link has the only "ZulU" sword I have ever seen. Ron's information is very helpful. The sword in the link is an exception and really a royal piece. It is interesting that it does not take the form of Shona swords. Also it is hard to see European infuence?

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showth...+zulu+interest
Tim Simmons is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th September 2010, 01:44 PM   #10
katana
Member
 
katana's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Kent
Posts: 2,653
Default

Hi Ron,
thank you for 'expanding' the topic , I was thinking Shaka 'onwards' ....when thinking Zulu. I did not consider the use of swords in SA pre-Shaka. So thanks for clarifying this. I have read, as you have stated, that inter tribal conflict (pre-Shaka) had 'guide-lines' by which the victors were fairly quickly known, limiting 'blood shed' to a minimum.

I also read that Shaka's earliest battles were won extremely easily because he had disregarded the 'rules' and completely 'overwhelmed' his opponents with the savagery of his troops. He literaly had changed the 'protocols' of war without his 'enemy' knowing the new rules.....almost 'shock and awe'....

Perhaps, then, you are right, that the knobkerrie was the short range weapon of choice in these earlier conflicts .....maybe the sword was considered too deadly . An interesting parallel was the use of the throwing knife in the Congo. In the 17th C the then King of the Kuba tribe banned its use as it was too savage.

The Iklwa was often described as having a 'sword-like' blade and the link Tim posted (thanks Tim ) is extremely interesting.
The sword shown has an Iklwa shaped/profiled blade on, effectively, a very short shaft. I am not suggesting that this is a cut down Iklwa though, as the handle has a flared 'pommel end'. But, this does demonstrate that the Zulu were 'aware' that the Iklwa could be utilised/modified into a short sword...but choose not to. I can only assume that as a spear it better suited the skill, tactics and function required by the tribesmen.

The blade on this sword seems to be approx. 18" long .....I believe the medal above is the standard 1 1/4" diameter and have used this to 'scale' the blade

Kind Regards David


.
Attached Images
 
katana is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 9th September 2010, 02:26 AM   #11
Ron Anderson
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Sydney Australia
Posts: 228
Default

Hi Tim and David

Tim, thanks for showing that sword. Very interesting. I'd agree with David that it seems to be a modification of the Iklwa. It does look like a long spear blade on a short handle (kind of like a straight-bladed Shotel actually, in its proportions).

I think that Tim nailed it on the head with the European influence, specifically British influence, looking at the timeline. In the early 1800s contact between Nguni and Europeans was minimal. By 1879, of course, there was a significant contact as the Zulu encountered first Boers, then British, moving inland.

The Boers never fought with swords. However, the British certainly did and the Zulu will have had plenty of opportunity to see cavalry and infantry regulation swords in action at close quarters.

Of course, 1879 is more than a half century after Shaka. Dingaan, Mpande and then Cetshwayo came to power and, by that time, the Zulu had certainly started wising up to the new European threat.

Fact is, by the battle of Isandlwana, Zulu would use captured firearms when possible. So why not adopt and adapt to the sword?

This makes sense.

Of course, it was still rare as hen's teeth. As you say, Tim, this is probably virtually a one-off. I've never seen any others.
Ron Anderson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 9th September 2010, 11:22 AM   #12
Ron Anderson
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Sydney Australia
Posts: 228
Default

Tim, another whimsical thought in relation to your comment that this sword may have been a chief's sword or somesuch. Interestingly, only British officers (in infantry and rifle regiments) carried swords. It requires a bit of imagination and some license, but I wonder if it's too much of a stretch to say it might have also been adopted as a symbol of rank, following the English example.

As I say, a bit of whimsy. Who knows.
Ron Anderson is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT +1. The time now is 09:16 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.11
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, vBulletin Solutions Inc.
Posts are regarded as being copyrighted by their authors and the act of posting material is deemed to be a granting of an irrevocable nonexclusive license for display here.