Konda palm knife, Democratic Republic of the Congo

, 20th century


21 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. (55 x 22 cm)


About this object

This knife, with its palm-shaped blade, may be an example of a ceremonial knife known as Ikakalaka. Konda blacksmiths were known for their skills and the originality of the objects they produced. As prestige items, these knives were worn by both men and women to display their status and achievements. Women often displayed them at the ceremony to honor the birth of their first child.

As in other groups in the region, the Konda blacksmiths used their skills to make weapons valued for their effectiveness in battle, and they also could transform these weapons into insignia that proclaimed the owner’s political power and wealth. An exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths, showed that these weapons also sometimes became a form of currency. With this transformation, the knives became larger and more ornate and, therefore, less functional but they acquired aesthetic qualities that conveyed messages about prestige, wealth and elegance. The Konda are part of the Mongo group, which is the second largest ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Blades of Power and Prestige.” Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

“Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths”. Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Maes, J. & Lavachery, H. L'art nègre, a l'exposition du Palais des Beaux-Arts. Brussels/Paris: Librairie Nationale d'Art et d'Histoire, 1930.