African designs, £9.99
Length: 45.000 cm
Collected by Emil Torday
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Axe with iron blade
Nsapo, probably late 19th century
From the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)
Until the second half of the nineteenth century central Africa was relatively isolated from European influences, though the stories of missionaries, explorers and commercial entrepreneurs created, in the popular imagination, notions of the 'Dark Continent'. Although the arrival of masks and wood sculpture towards the end of the nineteenth century began to change European perceptions of Africa, this appreciation did not extend to African metalwork, particularly weaponry.
Axes with elegant blades and decorated hafts were often carried as symbols of chiefly power and prestige. Ceremonial axes often incorporated numerous small human heads, possibly to represent the chief's peoples. Although widely used by the Songye peoples many of these axes were made by the Nsapo sub-group who had a thriving iron and copper-working industry. This axe has an iron blade, a wooden handle sheathed in copper and a raffia carrying strap.
C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)