This knife (musele) is not a weapon. It is a mark of authority and status. Chiefs and ritual specialists of the Mungala secret society would own such knives. They were also used to mark the tombs of chiefs.
Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
Religion and magic
Common Name
Simple Name
Full Name
whole length 287 mm; whole W 269 mm; part depth 38 mm
Cultural Group
Period Classification
19th century
Production Year High
Production Country
Production Area Region
Central Africa
Production Continent
Family Group

iron; copper; brass
Function Name
Function Detail
Traditionally classed as a throwing weapon, this ‘bird-headed’ knife did not function as a real weapon. It was used more as a symbol of status for its owner, which marked the owner’s tomb in death alongside a number of reliquary figures.
Collection Area Region
Collection Continent

    There are 5 comments

    • Audrey Toms, Jamaican member of Rejuve-nation
      22 March 2017 | Permalink | Reply to this comment

      That is so gorgeous.

    • Tony Eccles, Curator of Ethnography
      22 March 2017 | Permalink | Reply to this comment

      It’s not a functional weapon. It’s decorative, used to mark the tomb of a chief or ruler, or it’s carried by high-status members of those initiated into the Mungala society.

    • Marie-Therese, member of Rejuve-nation, from the Democratic Republic of Congo
      22 March 2017 | Permalink | Reply to this comment

      It looks like a hatchet for cutting wood, [but] ones for cutting wood have a wooden handle.

    • Captain James Fressanges, retired master mariner originally from Burma
      22 March 2017 | Permalink | Reply to this comment

      I’ve been to West Africa when I traded on ships…. It’s rough…. I thought it would be heavier… It’s very light… It’s [a] very delicate artefact…. Usually they are bloody rough, but this is well done…. This has brass, iron… yes, this is very delicate for an African tool. (He thinks it’s too light to be used as a tool, more likely to have a ceremonial purpose). Or even a toy for the children…. Because of the lightness, you couldn’t cut timber – this would break.

    • Tony Eccles, Curator of Ethnography
      22 March 2017 | Permalink | Reply to this comment

      This comes from central Africa…. It dates to the turn of the 20th century.

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