Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1883 Songye zappo-zap
Subjectzappo-zap mercenary / slaver
Culture: Songye-Luba
Setting: Belgian Congo late 19th-early 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Kennedy 2002 p66-67
"[T]he  Zappo-Zap people [were] a notorious group whose name probably came from the sound of gunfire.  The Zappo-Zaps (a subgroup of the Songye people) were the chameleons of the Kasai region, who survived by imitating their European and Arab oppressors.  Most notoriously, they worked as middlemen in the slave trade, abducting their neighbors and selling them to foreigners.  The Belgian traders rewarded their best workers with wives, bought from the Zappo-Zaps for a few lengths of cloth."  

* Kennedy 2002 p131
"At the turn of the century, the Belgians had just begun to despoil the Kasai, chopping down forests and burning villages in order to get at the precious rubber. ... [I]n September 1899, ... [t]he Zappo-Zaps had set about destroying an entire Kuba district.  The massacre was unfolding only a short march away, in a region called Pianga.  And rumor had it that Belgians had ordered the attack.  They had hired the Zappo-Zaps to subdue the region and confiscate every last ball of rubber."


* Kennedy 2002 p136
"The Zappo-Zaps were hundreds strong, hardened from years of slave trading and armed with expensive European rifles."


* Geary/Xatart 2007 p173
"Two ceremonial axes from the Songye realm in the southern DRC demonstrate complex production techniques and attest to the skills of African blacksmiths.  Specialists attribute both types of axes to artists of the Nsapo, a Songye subgroup.  Such attributions may be problematic, however, because these axes have a fairly wide distribution, and similar styles also exist among neighboring peoples.  In the first ax, a central rod is adorned with two faces on each side, and twisted metal and curved elements support the blade.  Thin copper sheeting, difficult to produce, covers the handle.  The other ax displays raised rims and perforations accentuated with curvilinear designs.  A central openwork copper-alloy inset decorates the blade.  Both axes served as prestige objects for high-ranking officials in hierarchically organized Songye society."

* Fryer 1969 p88
"Nzappa Zap  A Congo axe.  The openwork iron head has twisted sections and is often decorated with human faces.  The haft is covered with copper or snakeskin.  These were sometimes used as a form of currency."

* Spring 1993 p92
"[C]hiefs of the Songye people carry ceremonial axes with large, wrought iron blades rendered in openwork and often incorporating numberous small human heads, possibly symbolic of subordinate peoples. ... [T]he wooden hafts are sheathed entirely in copper.  Though widely used amongst the Songye peoples, many of these axes were made by the Nsapo sub-group among whom there was a thriving iron-and copper-working industry."

* Kimbell Art Museum > The Language of Beauty in African Art
"Luba axes are symbols of rank that the owner will typically hook over his left shoulder, with the head and the blade facing backward. They serve primarily to commemorate the culture hero Kalala Ilunga, the legendary founder of Luba kingship who introduced metallurgy and advanced hunting techniques. ... [T]hey might also have been owned by spirit mediums, diviners, and secret association members, all of whom routinely called upon the spirit world for the success of their work" ....


* Benitez/Barbier eds. 2000 p88
"This well-known shield was probably made alongside similar Songye/Luba bifwebe masks (singular, kifwebe) in the southeastern border region of the Bena Gende.  Dunja Herzsak, a specialist in the region, has written many informed articles about the striated bifwebe Songye masks and refers to their black-and-white stripes as being symbolic of animals, including bushbucks and zebras. ...
    "These shields have a symbolic rather than a defensive function.  Many of them are carved in softwood (ricinodendron) and were used like flags to lead troops into battle.  Similar shields were used as gifts to chiefs who chose to align themselves with the Luba rather than fight."