Copper tribute blades


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

Before the introduction of imported scrap metal and coinage in the twentieth century, metal was a very important and valuable commodity in Africa. Metal currency in various forms was used for several hundred years before minted coinage was introduced by European colonials. Locally produced metal currency took the form of modified utilitarian objects such as hoe blades, arrowheads and spearheads.

The Azande, in common with many other Central and Sudanic African peoples, made and used throwing knives as currency. The Azande are a diverse people united by a common language, organized into kingdoms ruled by different members of a single royal dynasty. Today they are dispersed between the modern states of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Produced by vassal peoples on the periphery of Zande influence, such as the Nzakara and Ngbandi, these stylized, copper versions of iron throwing knives were circulated throughout the Zande kingdoms, along with a wide range of luxury items. They were not exchanged ona commercial basis, but rather as part of a complex system of tribute-giving which maintained the delicate balance of power which existed in the de-centralized Zande empire.


  • Title: Copper tribute blades
  • Date Created: 1850/1899
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 39.00cm; Width: 27.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Af1954,+23.940
  • Production place: Made in Sudan
  • Place: Found/Acquired Democratic Republic of Congo. Found/Acquired Sudan
  • Peoples: Associated with Azande. Made by Nzakara. Made by Ngbandi
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: copper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Wellcome Historical Medical Museum
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