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African Spear


Brian Wolfe
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Hello Everyone,

Yesterday while my wife was in a local Quilting Shop I visited a small Antiques Mall just down the street and found this African Spear. I don't actually collect such items but being a collector...well you know the rest. :lol:

The price was attractive and that all I needed to bring it home, that and I had to borrow money from my wife as I was a dollar short.

I have seen these spear points in photos of warriors years ago but I can't seem to locate the book at the moment. The photo I remember showed several warriors in a group all carrying two or more spears. At least one of the warriors was carrying a spear such as this one with a flaired tip. After a long evening of searching the internet I came up empty. Would any of the members be able to identify the origins of this spear point?

It is 26 inches long with the flaired tip being 2 inches wide. The socket would take a 3/8 inch shaft. There are designs cut into the steel in the form of lines. This seems to be well made but it could very well be a tourist item though if it is it is well made. I am suspicious of this being real due to the small socket but knowing next to nothing about such items I leave it to you to decide.

I would like to know where this comes from (Tribe etc.), is it an original and what is it called and what was this type of point used for (cerimonial, mark of rank etc.).

Your assistance is much appreciated.

Cheers :cheers:

Brian

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This is the socket.

The blade and socket are all made from one piece of steel. You can see the design on the socket is simply rings filed around the socket.

The workmanship is actually quite good and you barely feel any hammer marks on the blade and the tapper from the socket area to the blade is very well done.

I hope someone can help me with this new addition.

Thanks again

Brian

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  • 8 months later...

Brian - I could be totally wrong on this - but no one else has had a 'go'. I don't think it's a spear - as in a sharp pointed instrument. More likely to be something for cutting-up an animal. Two peoples spring to mind - the Congolese, I have seen something similar and they cut-up Hippo carcases. More likely - particularly where you live - could it be Innuit (Eskimo). They would have the same need for whales and seals. If you can establish Canadian origin - which should not be difficult - with the pattern, it could be quite valuable. There must be a special museum? Mervyn

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Brian

I've seen one like it in a book and I'm certain it's African but d****ed if I can recall from where exactly. I'll look for the book or have the missus slap the back of my head to help me remember!.

Peter

Thanks Peter, It has been driving me crazy trying to remember where I saw one before. The "missus thing" isn't working for me but my wife seems determined to continue to "jar" my memory. :speechless:

Regards

Brian

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Brian - I tried to find the Ethnographic Museum - however, they've moved. Maybe Helen can help with her contacts? Failing that, contact the British Council in Ottawa - let them earn their money. Mervyn

Thanks Mervyn.

I have not tried the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto yet either but I do intend to do so if nothing comes up in the near future through my research attempts. The ROM has an area in their collection dedicated to Africa, though I am not sure what areas of Africa are represented.

Regards

Brian

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well, I have no idea what this is but I know what it reminds me of - a spear butt, not a spear head! Spears used by the Tuareg and also the Bororo Fulani people of Northern Nigeria have a similar, spatula-like butt. Mervyn's reference to the Congo might be closer to the mark - the Bushoong (Kuba) people historically used a warsword called an 'ilwoon' with a similar-shaped blade. It was also worn as part of a dance costume at the funeral of high-ranking tribesmen. However, I've no idea if this shape extended to spears. I have never seen an Inuit weapon or implement of this type and it is rare to find Inuit items of a historical nature containing so much steel. An interesting object, whatever it is!

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well, I have no idea what this is but I know what it reminds me of - a spear butt, not a spear head! Spears used by the Tuareg and also the Bororo Fulani people of Northern Nigeria have a similar, spatula-like butt. Mervyn's reference to the Congo might be closer to the mark - the Bushoong (Kuba) people historically used a warsword called an 'ilwoon' with a similar-shaped blade. It was also worn as part of a dance costume at the funeral of high-ranking tribesmen. However, I've no idea if this shape extended to spears. I have never seen an Inuit weapon or implement of this type and it is rare to find Inuit items of a historical nature containing so much steel. An interesting object, whatever it is!

Helen, you are a treasure.

I started to look through some old catalogs from The Museum of Historical Arms which was located in Miami Beach Florida. Finally in the last catalog there was an entry that looked correct. This particular catalog was from the mid 1960s. It shows this as the spatula-like butt you have mentioned except they were selling this as from the Malay States. I have found several identification errors in these old catalogs so Nigeria is probably correct. I would think this would help stabilize the spear if it were thrown much as feathers do for an arrow.

Thanks to all for your help.

Regards

Brian

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Mervyn,

I'm not sure I've ever heard of an 'Ethnographic Museum' in London per se...there is the Horniman in London and outside the city other institutions with ethnographic collections such as the museums in Brighton and Saffron Walden. Perhaps it is known under a different name now?

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Helen, you are a treasure....

I have found several identification errors in these old catalogs so Nigeria is probably correct. I would think this would help stabilize the spear if it were thrown much as feathers do for an arrow.

Thanks to all for your help.

Regards

Brian

Wonderful, though it leaves me going "D'oh!", as I actually own a couple Tuareg items including a knife with a wide spatulate end on the sheath, though the blade is a simple poiniard shape.

I met many Fulani while in Nigeria, though none whom I recall carrying spears. They, like the Masai of east Africa, are nomadic herdsmen, though these days the wives and 'piccins' (kids) go ahead by taxi as the men and boys and cows follow the rains and the new grass up and down the west coast of Africa. Actually, up and down is a misnomer. Toward and away from the damper coast, which in Nigeria happened to be north and south.

The Tuareg, back then (1978-80) were in the 5th or 6th year of a 7 year drought in the Sahara and had come south when the camels died to look for a living. However, as the males don't do any manual labour - there's a hereditary slave caste for that - they were somewhat limited as to employment prospects. To proud to beg, they usually worked as watchmen and, believe me, NOBODY robbed a compound guarded by Tuareg. They all carried (not wore, carried) either swords or whips, the latter made from a yard of 3/4" stell cable tipped with a lead ball the size of a gold ball and covered in leather. The Tuareg equivalent of the policeman's "non-lethal force'. You'd just WISH you were dead! Thay also held hands a lot - male and male - but, oddly, no one ever hassled them about it!

My fondest memory of Tuareg is sitting outside a building in Nigeria (they were on duty) sipping mint tea and listening to the Voice of America, which broadcast in "Special English" - speaking veeeery slooowlyyy for non-native ears. "Tonights toopiiic is treee faaarmiiing in Orrreeeggooon." Too funny!

Enough natter! Glad you've pinned down the spear, Brian . Veeerrryyy niiiicceee!

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Brian - you posted back in Sept. 2008 , I picked it up 'browsing' and with a combined effort you have your answer. Who said GMIC isn't an amazing meeting of minds !

Helen, I'm going back 25 years , but if you walked through Burlington Arcade from Regent St. and turned left at the end, the museum faced you. But, looking at the date, you were probably a little girl - I hate getting old !!!

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Mervyn,

Well, yes, I'm in my twenties so perhaps wouldn't remember the place but when you mentioned Burlington, something clicked in my memory that I'd read. I looked through a publication by our director, who used to work at the British Museum, and think I've found what we're looking for! - Number 6, Burlington Gardens, used to be occupied by the British Museum's Ethnography Department, although it was not purpose-built as a museum. Designed in the 1860s by James Pennethorne (adopted son of the architect John Nash), its first tenants were London University, hence the statues along the fa?ade of luminaries ranging from Plato to Adam Smith. Subsequently, the building housed the Civil Service Commission, before hosting the Ethnography Department when it migrated from the British Museum's overcrowded Bloomsbury site in 1970. It became known as the Museum of Mankind. At the end of 1997 it closed and the Department moved back into the main British Museum site in Bloomsbury began. (In 2005 the building was brought back into use by the Royal Academy, the tenant of the original wing of Burlington House and the wing which lies between the two buildings. It is used mainly by the Royal Academy Schools now). Hope that's solved the puzzle and at least it means the collections weren't disseminated - they're still in the hands of the BM (although I still think the Horniman tops it in the 'weird and wonderful' stakes! :D )

Helen

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Peter,

wonderful to hear of your time in Africa - even though those folk do sound rather intimidating! - as it helps bring such weapons to life. Thank you for filling us in on the tribes customs and your own experiences - you're probably right about the Fulani - I went back to the source and read that during certain dances performed to reinforce group/clan alliances they simply carried swords and spears that were 'Tuareg-style' (not necessarily their own cultural property nor necessarily a common practice).

So Tuareg looks plausible but even so, I'm not totally sure - the Tuareg spear butts seem very slim and only flare out quite near the end, not have the elongated tapering section as on Brian's example. What do you think? But anyway, it's perhaps the best guess so far...

Edited by helen
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'Another mystery solved - Watkins' !! I'd forgotten it's correct name - however, thankyou for taking time to 'sort' me out.

Now, the Horniman is another matter ..... The rarest and most eclectic items you could hope to find - and, a wonderful collection of truncheons. It's amazing when you think it all came from tea ! (Hornimans was a famous tea empire)

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  • 2 years later...

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