Zande [Azande] Shields

Overview of the Azande and their shields

Schweinfurth's account

Evans-Pritchard's account

Petherick's accounts

A story: Ture's fight with a man and his sister

A Zande shield in Pitt Rivers' collection

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  Zande shields on display in the Upper Gallery of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.


Overview: extract from Plaschke and Zirngibl, African Shields
(p104 onwards)

The expressively designed shields of the Zande (Azande, Sandeh, Niam-Niam) ... were made with great care, in particular, with regard to the artistically decorated handle board...

The name Zande is a collective term for a large number of tribes which in the last century were incorporated into the territory of the Zande, and which adopted their language and customs. Their huge tribal territory emcompasses a region in which lie modern-day Zaire, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The powerful Zande were regarded as a martial master race. Under the ruling class of the Avongara (Vongara, Avungara), the Zande developed into a strictly organized military power. It was common for kings and princes to keep a few companies of armed warriors at their often far-flunged [sic] royal courts.

As varied as the entire weaponry of the warriors has been (together with knives, daggers, throwing knives etc spears have formed from the earliest times the most important offensive weapons), so too are known several basic variations of the Zande shields. They vary in size and in wicker design, and are regarded as the most important identification markings of the warrior.

The so-called gbilija, made of particularly thin and closely woven wicker, were carried by the highest dignitaries, who kept to the rear and were never found in the forward lines during battle.

In contrast, the kube, the shields of the great warriors, were always strikingly decorated. Wickerwork patterns enabled warriors at night to distinguish between friend and foe. Obscuring these identification markings in battle was punished most severely [the shield used to illustrate this is very similar to the Zande shield from Screen 2, 1884.30.33]. Woven out of relatively wide strips of reed, the shield of an ordinary man, called kpawangbwada, although much less sturdy, was nevertheless very functional.

G.Schweinfurth wrote that the shields, rounded on both ends, were made out of split rattan cane (in particular calamus). The strengthening of the shields was accomplished through placing a tightly braided road completely around their rims. Sharply protruding, cross-shaped, bright ornamentations, made of unblackened strips, are invariably directed towards a bright or dark point in the middle of the shield.

With the appearance of the colonial powers - the British in the north, the French in the west and the Belgian in the south - the 'irritating rule' of the Zande was consciously destroyed. In order to prevent the flaring up of an occasional feud among this tribe, colonial governments sometimes forbade the carrying of weapons or even prohibited the manufacturing of shields. The final collapse at the turn of the century of the military power of the Zande was the result of the introduction of firearms...

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