Culture: (A)zande, Boa, Niam-Niam
Setting: tribal warfare, northern Congo 19th-early 20thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Diagram group 2000 p39
"The Azande, an ethnic group with several sub-groups, live in northeast Central African Republic and neighboring regions of Congo (Dem. Rep.), and Sudan. 'Azande' is the plural of 'Zande.' The total number of Azande -- who were formerly known as Niam-Niam -- is estimated at between 750,000 and 2,000,000.
"History The Azande are of very mixed origins. More than 200 years ago, a people known as the Ambomou lived on the banks of the Mbomou River, which forms part of the present-day border between the Central African Republic and Congo (Dem. Rep.). The Ambobou were dominated by the royal Avongara clan, who led them in a campaign of conquest of neighboring subgroups. This campaign led them into Sudan. Some of the conquered subgroups retained their own languages, but most of them regard themselves as Azande, no matter how much they differ from one another."
* Bacquart 1998 p141
"Like the Mangbetu, their neighbours, the Zande (also called Azande) migrated during the 18th century from Sudan to the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), settling on the banks of the Uele River. They occupy a region of savannah and forest and in common with the Mangbetu, Zande men hunt and fish while the women tend the fields. In political terms, this tribe of 750,000 people is ruled by a king with succession to the throne passing to his eldest son, while the younger ones govern the kingdom's provinces. This political structure is counterbalanced by the Mani secret society, created at the turn of the century."
* Spring 1993 p87 f80
"Scimitars, mambeli, used by the Azande and, in similar forms, by the neighbouring Boa people of northeast Zaire. These weapons are said to have been developed to hook aside an opponent's shield to make way for a spear thrust. However, in order to do this a warrior would have to drop his own shield. Such speculation may therefore owe less to documented evidence than to the Western obsession with explaining form by function in the study of African weapons."
* Diagram Group 2000 p39-40
"The Azande are famous for the shongo, a multibladed throwing knife. The shongo spins as it flies, so it does the maximum amount of harm to an enemy. The Azande smiths make the knives of copper or steel and decorate them with elaborate patterns."
* Spring 1993 p70
"The Zande kpinga, an example of the southern type of throwing knife, is one of the few varieties whose aerodynamic qualities are well attested and whose consistent use as a missile (amongst other functions) has been well documented. In fact, from a purely utilitarian point of view, it is true to say that the majority of southern throwing knives are far better designed for use as missiles than many of the heavier northern varieties."
* Spring 1993 p79
"This weapon [kpinga] was used not only by the Avongara, the ruling class of the Azande, but also, in varying forms, by a wide variety of peoples who came under Zande influence including the Adio and Bombeh to the east and northeast, the Bongo and Kreish to the northwest, and the Banda, Nzakara and Ngbandi to the west. Petherick's account of 1858 is one of the earliest descriptions of the 'Niam Niam', as the Azande and related peoples were referred to in the nineteenth century:
Their arms consist of smooth and barbed lances, and a large oblong shield, formed of closely-woven matting, composed of several patterns, and dyed with many colours. In the centre of the interior is a wooden handle, to which are attached two or three singlularly-formed iron projectiles, resembling a boomerang of rather a circular form, bearing on their peripheries several sharp projections. Attached to the girdle, a strong leather sheath containing a knife, hilt downwards, is worn by every 'Neam Neam'."
* Coe, Connolly, Harding, Harris, Larocca, Richardson, North, Spring, & Wilkinson 1993 p216 (Christopher Spring, "African hilt weapons" p204-217)
"Among the Zande of northeast Zaire and adjacent parts of Sudan, a battle would take the form of a large number of individual combats between opponents facing each other in two long lines, no more than a dozen yards apart. The throwing knife or kpinga could only be carried by members of the king's regular army and was considered to be mara ngbanga or 'court metal', to be used on the king's behalf to fight his battles. Therefore, before the weapon could be thrown, a warrior had to declare his intention of doing so to his opponent, lest he should be thought to be throwing away court metal out of fear. Given the great value placed on spears and throwing knives by the Zande, it seems possible that these highly ritualized martial encounters may on occasion have been an elaborate means of exchanging wealth.
"[...] If the Zande warrior's skill with the throwing knife was effective against men on foot, would it not have been devastatingly effective against mounted warriors? So much of the culture of Sudanic Africa has been shaped by the combined power of man and horse that it is not unreasonable to speculate that the throwing knife may have evolved as a means of resisting and counteracting this power, even that it acquired some of its magical qualities by serving this purpose."