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Old 27th April 2021, 08:30 AM   #1
Mefidk
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Default Congo sword ID help

Hi folks
Recently I have been expanding my horizons a bit into the Congo - a whole new world of wonderful forms But also mysteries. Here is one of mine. I wonder what opinion about the origins of this sword is?
It was sold to me as a Songye sword, and I can see that the blade shape is very like Songye swords. However, I cannot pin it down and I don't think the hilt and grip decoration suggest Songye. Here are some possibilities I considered:

Songye (claimed) . I found online pictures with no refs of similar swords but the hilts do not match. Blade form similar to three shown on WoDiMi's site. Also here for similar blade shape (different form) and similarities of grip - but different decoration.

Luba - Bastide identifies one example of this shape blade to Luba, but no central ridge. This example is very similar

Kuba - grip style and decoration very similar to Kuba Ikul swords. An example from WoDiMi's site: A Kuba Bambala Goribi sword with grip decoration and general grip form like this one. Blade different.
As far as I can deduce from my available literature, blades of this form do not seem to be Kuba (or just not in the books). The attached picture with copper blade is another Kuba Ikul from the collection of Dieter Schaffner (which I just bought and will hopefully be with me soon). The hilt similarities are strong.

On balance a hilt of this type seems to point to Kuba - but the blade form is a problem. So I wonder are there Kuba examples of swords of this form, or is it more likely a Kuba influenced people (who, Bena Lulua?). Or perhaps there other strong contenders I did not consider?

I'm sure some of the Congo experts here can steer me onto the right path.
Chris
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Old 27th April 2021, 02:57 PM   #2
colin henshaw
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Hi Chris

Good to see you interested in Congo material, its a favourite area of mine. However, I have limited knowledge and there are Congo specialists on the forum who can advise you much better than I. Nice sword - because of the hilt decoration I would have attributed it to the Kuba, as you say, but the blade form is not typical for them, more like Bena Lulua ? Congo Knives & swords are difficult to pin down exactly because of influence of style areas on each other and the sheer number of weapon types and tribal groups.

Lets see what others have to say, hopefully they can be more informative.

Regards.
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Old 27th April 2021, 06:08 PM   #3
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Thanks Colin. Yes Congo and surrounds seems very interesting both ethnographically, artistically, and weapon-wise. Its a steep mountain to climb at first, not least due to the variants of tribal names, sub-groups, general mixing and cross-influences. So I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that e.g. Kuba and Bushongo are often used to describe Kuba but are a subgroup, as well as the different spellings of the same tribe name dependent on whether you are French, German or English speaking. All adds to the challenge and fun of sorting out what is what (at least at first).

Bena Lulua was my favorite guess based on what I could see of similar shaped swords around them (at least south/east) and Kuba influence - now waiting to hear that I got it all wrong and is somewhere else entirely
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Old 27th April 2021, 06:36 PM   #4
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Hi Chris
The handle is Kuba, i'm not shure about the blade.
Blades often travel great distances as steel/ iron was very valuable.
Often traded without a handle, the new owner puts on a handle according to his tribal traditions.
My guess is Bena lulua, tschokwe or yaka, i'm not an expert just a humble collector.
Best regards
Marc
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Old 28th April 2021, 07:30 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mefidk View Post
Hi folks
Recently I have been expanding my horizons a bit into the Congo - a whole new world of wonderful forms But also mysteries. Here is one of mine. I wonder what opinion about the origins of this sword is?
It was sold to me as a Songye sword, and I can see that the blade shape is very like Songye swords. However, I cannot pin it down and I don't think the hilt and grip decoration suggest Songye. Here are some possibilities I considered:

Songye (claimed) . I found online pictures with no refs of similar swords but the hilts do not match. Blade form similar to three shown on WoDiMi's site. Also here for similar blade shape (different form) and similarities of grip - but different decoration.

Luba - Bastide identifies one example of this shape blade to Luba, but no central ridge. This example is very similar

Kuba - grip style and decoration very similar to Kuba Ikul swords. An example from WoDiMi's site: A Kuba Bambala Goribi sword with grip decoration and general grip form like this one. Blade different.
As far as I can deduce from my available literature, blades of this form do not seem to be Kuba (or just not in the books). The attached picture with copper blade is another Kuba Ikul from the collection of Dieter Schaffner (which I just bought and will hopefully be with me soon). The hilt similarities are strong.

On balance a hilt of this type seems to point to Kuba - but the blade form is a problem. So I wonder are there Kuba examples of swords of this form, or is it more likely a Kuba influenced people (who, Bena Lulua?). Or perhaps there other strong contenders I did not consider?

I'm sure some of the Congo experts here can steer me onto the right path.
Chris
Hi Chris
Nice old sword, I believe it to be a Kuba sword please have a look at the website www.memoire-africaine.com. If you look under the SMS section and at the Glaives you will find a photo of a Kuba sword similar to yours. It is dated around 1900.
Regards
Miguel
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Old 28th April 2021, 07:52 PM   #6
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Hi Chris

Nice old sword. I find Congolese weapons to be very interesting and I believe your sword to be a Kuba weapon. After searching through my books and looking through various websites I believe that I have found a Kuba sword similar to yours. Please take a look at www.memoire-africaine.com look under arms and then the section on Glaives and you will find a photo of a similar weapon attributed to the Kuba that is dated to 1900.

Miguel
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Old 29th April 2021, 06:51 AM   #7
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Thank you Marc and Miguel
So I am getting the feeling that the decoration on the hilt is what marks this out as Kuba, but I could see some more of the pictures of the Songye swords on the site that Miguel linked to with similar hilt and blade, but not the decoration. So perhaps pointing to overlap between Songye and Kuba, which probably brings it back to Luluwa.
That website is really useful, thanks for linking to to it Miguel!
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Old 29th April 2021, 07:15 PM   #8
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Hi Chris

glad you find the site interesting Find it one of the best for Congolese weapons, it was linked tome some time ago by a forum member.

I think you are right in your thoughts concerning the hilt decoration and still believe that your sword is Kuba but handle decoration apart I can see where you and the other forum members of the forum are coming from in thinking it is Bena Luala due to the form of the blade which is not the common form of the Kuba blades.

Regards

Miguel
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Old 29th April 2021, 07:34 PM   #9
colin henshaw
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With regard to Kuba swords and knives ... the inlaid metal decorations to the wooden hilt are very finely done, usually in a greyish colour metal (sometimes in copper) ... I have wondered what type of metal it is - lead or zinc ??

Another observation - very similar work is to be found on some Acholi (Uganda) axes (images attached), but the Acholi are a long way from the Kuba. I wonder if this is just coincidence or is there another reason ?
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Old 30th April 2021, 05:32 PM   #10
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That does indeed look like the same process, and even really closely similar styles and materials. Is this known from other areas too, or just these two?

I don't recall seeing it on other examples not attributed to Kuba, but clearly there are some.
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Old 2nd May 2021, 07:44 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Mefidk View Post
That does indeed look like the same process, and even really closely similar styles and materials. Is this known from other areas too, or just these two?

I don't recall seeing it on other examples not attributed to Kuba, but clearly there are some.

Chris, looking through the book "Panga na Visu" by Zirngible & Kubetz ... the only other tribes that seem to utilise this particular type of metal decoration on their weapon hilts, seem to be the Wongo and the Lele peoples. I believe they are both related to the Kuba and to be found in the same geographical area of the Congo ?
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Old 2nd May 2021, 09:04 PM   #12
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Hi Colin, that makes sense. Both Wongo and Lele are from Luluwa west, between Kuba and Pende, which fits well with the ideas on the sword which started this thread.

The closest other I found is Fishcher and Zirngibl fig 262, which Tchokwe, but the style is quite different even if the technique is similar. Nowhere near as close as the axe you showed. Also similar technique but quite different patterns from Luba, e.g. Waffen aus central Afrika fig 151.
So I suppose its possible that the axe pattern and Kuba patterns arrived independently. At least the technique for attaching these small metal strips seems quite widespread in central and south-east Congo (if not the style). So maybe it travelled or evolved elsewhere, even Uganda.

Panga na visu is really a nice book. My library on Congo includes this and Waffen above; Fischer; all of the Tribal arms monographs volumes I & II; Bastide's 3 books; Fatal Beauty; Rare African short weapons by Zirngibl; Standing on Ceremony; & The Cutting Edge. But I feel there must be more out there of use (sorry Luc I do not yet have your book if you are looking ). Do you know others you'd recommend?
Most of my collection is axes, for which I have not found any specialised book, but it would be nice if there is one I don't know of!
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Old 3rd May 2021, 11:23 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mefidk View Post
Hi Colin, that makes sense. Both Wongo and Lele are from Luluwa west, between Kuba and Pende, which fits well with the ideas on the sword which started this thread.

The closest other I found is Fishcher and Zirngibl fig 262, which Tchokwe, but the style is quite different even if the technique is similar. Nowhere near as close as the axe you showed. Also similar technique but quite different patterns from Luba, e.g. Waffen aus central Afrika fig 151.
So I suppose its possible that the axe pattern and Kuba patterns arrived independently. At least the technique for attaching these small metal strips seems quite widespread in central and south-east Congo (if not the style). So maybe it travelled or evolved elsewhere, even Uganda.

Panga na visu is really a nice book. My library on Congo includes this and Waffen above; Fischer; all of the Tribal arms monographs volumes I & II; Bastide's 3 books; Fatal Beauty; Rare African short weapons by Zirngibl; Standing on Ceremony; & The Cutting Edge. But I feel there must be more out there of use (sorry Luc I do not yet have your book if you are looking ). Do you know others you'd recommend?
Most of my collection is axes, for which I have not found any specialised book, but it would be nice if there is one I don't know of!
Here are a few others to consider :-

P Westerdijk "African Metal Implements"
Marc Felix "Kipinga", 1991
H Westerdijk "Ijzerwerk van Centraal-Africa", 1982
P Westerdijk "The African Throwing Knife", 1988
Museum fur Volkerkunde, Frankfurt "Ehe Die Gewehre Kamen", 1985

I know of only one book on African Axes .... "African Axes" by Carl Gosta Widstrand, 1958
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Old 3rd May 2021, 02:16 PM   #14
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Thanks Colin - I knew of some of these, but not all - including not knowing the axe book. I'll start looking for them
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Old 4th May 2021, 09:37 AM   #15
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Most of my collection is axes, for which I have not found any specialised book, but it would be nice if there is one I don't know of!
Chris, do please post some images of axes, I would be most interested.

Regards.
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Old 5th May 2021, 03:55 PM   #16
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OK Colin, will do, thanks for the interest. It may take a little time since I need to take photos of a few, but I can start with a new thread on one or two. Most are Congo, but I have a few from elsewhere in Africa. But as I said only just starting out with this area so I only have 20 at the moment. None are stellar examples, rather I wanted first to get a feel for the range and quality before investing in high-end items.
Almost all the Congo axes are sold as Songye axes, but I have doubts about this - there would have to be a lot of important Songye with their ceremonial axes, and the range of form is quite large. I've seen some differentiation suggested east/west and there are the Nsapo types, but I suspect there is much more to this than I see in the texts mentioned above. I hope some answers might be found in the axe book
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