The Azande and Their 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

More about African shields in general

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Extract from Schweinfurth's The Heart of Africa

(p274 and on [vol I])

...The name Niam-niam is borrowed from the dialect of the Dinka, and means 'eaters' or rather 'great eaters', manifestly betokening a reference to the cannibal propensities of the people. This designation has been so universally incorporated into the Arabic of the Soudan, that it seems inadvisable to substitute for it the word 'Zandey', the name by which the people are known amongst themselves...

...The principal weapons of the Niam-niam are their lances and their trumbashes. The word 'trumbash' which has been incorporated into the Arabic of the Soudan, is the term employed in Sennaar to denote generally all the varieties of missiles that are used by the negro races; it should, however, properly be applied solely to that sharp flat projectile of wood, a kind of boomerang, which is used for killing birds or hares, or any small game: when the weapon is made of iron, it is called 'kulbeda'. The trumbash of the Niam-niam consists ordinarily of several limbs of iron, with pointed prongs and sharp edges. Iron missiles very similar in their shape are found among the tribes of the Tsad basin; and a weapon constructed on the same principle, the 'changer manger' is in use among the Marghy and the Musgoo.

The trumbashes are always attached to the inside of the shields, which are woven from the Spanish reed, and are of long oval form, covering two-thirds of the body; they are ornamented with black and white crosses or other devices, and are so light that they do not in the least impede the combatants in their wild leaps. An expert Niam-niam, by jumping up for a moment, can protect his feet from the flying missiles of his adversary. Bows and arrows, which, as handled by the Bongo, give them a certain advantage, are not in common use among the Niam-niam, who possess a peculiar weapon of attack in their singular knives, that have blades like sickles. The Monbuttoo, who are far more skilful smiths than the Niam-niam, supply them with most of these weapons, receiving in return a heavy kind of lance, that is adapted for the elephant and buffalo chase...

...Notwithstanding the general warlike spirit displayed by the Niam-niam, it is a singular fact that the chieftains very rarely lead their own people into actual engagement, but are accustomed, in anxious suspense, to linger about the environs of the 'mbanga', ready, in the event of tidings of defeat, to decamp with their wives and treasures into the most inaccessible swamps, or to betake themselves for concealment to the long grass of the steppes. In the heat of combat each discharge of lances is accompanied by the loudest and wildest of battle-cries, every man as he hurls his weapon shouting aloud the name of his chief. In the intervals between successive attacks the combatants retire to a safe distance, mounting any eminence that may present itself, or climbing to the summit of the hills of the white ants, which sometimes rise to a height of 12 or 15 feet, they proceed to assail their adversaries, for the hour together, in the most ludicrous manner, with every invective and every epithet of contempt and defiance they can command. During the few days that we were obliged to defend ourselves by an abattis against the attacks of the natives in Wando's southern territory, we had ample opportunity of hearing these accumulated opprobriums. We could hear them vow that the 'Turks' should perish, and that not one of them should quit the country alive; and then we recognised the repeated shout. 'To the caldron [sic] with the Turks!' rising to the eager climax, 'Meat! meat!' It was emphatically announced that there was no intention to do any injury to the white man, because he was a stranger and a newcomer to the land; but I need hardly say that, under the circumstances, I felt little inclination to throw myself upon their mercy...

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