Mangbetu "Trumbash" knife, Democratic Republic of the Congo

, c. 1940

Wood, iron

14 3/4 x 7 x 2 in. (37.5 x 18 x 5 cm)


About this object

African throwing knives, of which this iron and wood piece from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a fine example, have been important weapons and ceremonial objects among a large number of groups across a vast area of the continent. The knives were made in a huge variety of forms; this style, called an emambele, is one of two curved knives known as trumbash made by the Mangbetu of northeastern D.R.C. Emambele often have perforations in the blade, as this one does; these were apparently to hold copper buttons signifying the owner’s rank or ability (McNaughton). The trumbash has a simpler shape than some of the multi-bladed  throwing knives; see e.g. this Konda palm knife or this Kipinga, also from the D.R.C.

Ginzberg, Marc: African Forms (Milan, Italy: Skira, 2000), p. 178.

Pat R. McNaughton, “The Throwing Knife in African History,” African Arts, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1970), pp. 54-60, 89.

For some background on the Mangbetu people, see e.g. Enid Schildkraut, “The Spectacle of Africa through the Lens of Herbert Lang: Belgian Congo Photographs 1909-1915,” African Arts, Vol. 24, No. 4, Special Issue: Historical Photographs of Africa (Oct., 1991), pp. 70-85, 100. Although this article focuses on the German-American photographer and his relationship with his photographic subjects, it includes discussion of some of the prominent leaders of the Mangbetu from that period as well as their renowned artistic practice.