Display knife and scabbard
Democratic Republic of the Congo or Central African Republic
Ngbandi or related peopled (e.g. Sango and Yakoma)
Wood, hide, copper, brass
H: (knife) 49 cm (H: 19.2 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X87.1458a,b
This knife and scabbard were made by the Ngbandi, six large ethnic groups who live about 700 miles from the Ogowe-Ivindo confluence, across several great rivers. The Ngbandi, who speak a Nigritic language in contrast to the Bantu ones of the Ogowe-Ivindo, were among the most tasteful and skilled sword smiths of Central Africa. Their inventory included wide sabers with offset, expanded ends and spears with very long blades. This knife is a prime example of the tour-de-force of the series, a straight knife with a blade divided into three parts. The lower half of the blade is shaped like a long oval, designed without a point and enhanced by stepped, longitudinal contours and some engraving. The form of the leather scabbard is consistent with the shape of the blade and adds greatly to the distinctiveness of the knife. Sometimes left uncovered, the scabbard was often, as in this example, completely covered by wire worked in a pattern that was only a little less masterful than that covering the hilt. Knife and scabbard were carried on a bandoleer slung over the shoulder; with the handle kept upper-most. The ethnographic record sustains the use of the form as a weapon, if only in display. Although not documented,. these knives were apparently at least partly intended for display. As in many other such associations, the Ngbandi ancestor cult honors the weapons of deceased leaders. The Ngbandi, however, did not use weapons as reliquary guardians, a typical practice among the Ogowe-Ivindo. Although previously these knives and scabbards were mounted upside down by art collectors, there is no support to the suggestion that they were traditionally hung in this manner to represent something other than a weapon. This knife and the others like it appear to have been produced bu either one or only a few ateliers. Although their exact origin has not been localized, some authorities attribute then to the Yakona. The use of wire covering two different kinds of armature. which is common to this group, probably derived from basketry or matting. In this it differs from the very peculiar Ogowe-Ivindo technique, which seems to have been based on the example of metal stapling. The biomorphic quality of the Ngbandi scabbard, which is pronounced in this example and can be discerned either right-side-up or upside-down, is not consistent within the corpus.
Source: Ross, Doran H. ed. (1994): “Visions of Africa”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 107