Traditional African Weapons

Kenya National Archives

African's were known for crafting unique weaponry during the pre colonial era which were then used for various activities like war, grazing, traditional ceremonies and some even for prestige. Most notable weapons were the spears made using a long wooden sheath and a metallic head as well as the bow and arrows and shields often made from animal hide. Some communities are crafted swords. 

INTRODUCTION
African's were known for crafting unique weaponry during the pre colonial era which were then used for various activities like war, grazing, traditional ceremonies and some even for prestige. Most notable weapons were the spears made using a long wooden sheath and a metallic head as well as the bow and arrows and shields often made from animal hide. Some communities are crafted swords. 
Ethiopian Weaponry
Ethiopians had unique traditional weapons; mostly shields and swords as shown in this segment. 

They were often made from hippo or rhino hide formed into round shapes, sometimes having decorative bumps worked into the skin while still soft.

Ethiopian headrests take several forms, many intricately incised.

Ethiopian animal hide shields, pounded wet onto wooden forms, dried and removed, are among the most impressive and prized in Africa.

Ceremonial swords carried by palace guards and were symbols of honour.

Swords were often awarded to citizens by the emperor for merit in battle or other activities.

Most Ethiopian shields are made from a very thick, tough leather, said to be hippopotamus hide.

They are stretched and hammered over (often elaborate) wood forms, dried and removed.

Kenyan Traditional Weaponry
Shields represent one of the many genres of artifacts that blur the line between utilitarian craft and fine art. This convex, elliptical shield comes from the Maasai, a pastoralist people who live in the grasslands of southern Kenya. The shield is composed of buffalo hide sewn onto a wooden frame. The handle is attached at the center back of the shield and wrapped with leather strips. 

Worn by maasai warriors for hunting lions.
The enkuwaru is a headdress made of ostrich plumes.

Maasai shields are usually made of buffalo hide and decorated with natural vegetable dyes.

Shields remain one of the Maasai warrior's most important tools.

They were used in warfare and hunting as well as practice and training. Outside of the warring context, however, shields were used in rites of passage and also functioned as prestige objects and symbols of identification.

Maasai society is organized into distinct age and sex grades.

The surface of the shield is decorated with large, nearly symmetrical crescents in red, white, and black.

Younger warriors were only allowed the use of black, white, or gray on their shields, indicating that the shield illustrated here was probably owned by a proven warrior herder.

The rungu is the famous knobkerry or club with the head usually made from the root of a tree so that it is extremely hard.

The simi is a long bladed dagger kept in a leather sheath.

Wakamba are legendary hunters. They hunt with spears and bows and arrows in skin quivers.

Luhya shields were often made of the hard hide of the hippopotamus, with a wooden handle.

Spears were leaf shaped with along wooden shaft.
The weapons consisted of spears and special javelins.

Sometimes these were attached to a long string so that, after spearing an enemy, the spear could be pulled back again and used once more.

Luo shields were made from patches of cow hide with skin strips and thongs sealed with honey, blood and wax.

They had a wooden rim and handle. They were used in fighting and in ceremonies like TERO BURU, which is performed after the burial of an elder.

Turkana warriors narrow shields are made of animal hide including Giraffe and Buffalo.

Turkana Spears have a long shaft with leaf shaped blades.

Traditional Weapons from Congo
Bakuba shields included practice shields of rattan and wood which were used to improve defensive skills as well as for display.

Some spear blades were not used for weapons at all but were a form of currency used in trade.

Some being used only for ceremonial purposes.

Bakuba spears were exceptionally graceful in design.

Daggers with carved blades and wooden hilts were carried by Bakuba Kings in Zaire (now DRC).

Congolese ceremonial dagger, When not in use the were displayed in royal chambers.

Special royal daggers hard elaborately carved and in-laid hilts. They were kept in covers of hand-woven raffia (palm fiber).

Other African Traditional Weaponry
The Dogon are a very ancient people who now live in houses out from high cliffs above the plain and below. 

Ancestral figures of Tellem are often carved on the half of ceremonial knifes.

Somali daggers most often have a hilt that is in-laid with metals i.e. copper, brass and iron, sometimes combined with ebony wood.

The belts are made from camel hide often with elaborate patterns and geometric designs.

Bushmen from the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and South Africa are hunters.

They normally hunt with tiny arrows with poisoned tips kept in a soft goat skinned quiver.

Kenya National Archives
Credits: Story

Research and curation:
1. Martin K. Maitha
2. Magunga Williams Oduor, who runs Kenya's leading digital creative writing space Magunga .
3. Belva Digital team.

Photography:
Bobbypall Photography .

Text & Images: Kenya National Archives.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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