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

Back to main shields page

Extract from Evans-Pritchard's The Azande

(pp 259 - 269)

A battle consisted of individual combats between warriors on either side all along the line and at short range, usually only a few yards separated the combatants, for the spear had to pierce a man's shield before it could pierce the man. The throwing-knife doubtless carried further, though it may not have been so effective a weapon because it probably met with greater resistance from the texture of the shield. I fancy that its effect was as much psychological as physical. I used to practise with it when I was among the Azande and I learnt to throw it with considerable force and accuracy. When correctly thrown, one of its several blades was certain to strike the objective squarely, and the sight of the blades circling towards one in the air must have been frightening. The Zande shield, however, protected two-thirds of the body, and when a man crouched behind it, as he did if a spear or knife was aimed high, his body was fully covered. If the missile came at him low, he jumped in the air with remarkable agility to let it pass under him. I have not, of course, myself seen a Zande battle, but men have demonstrated to me with old shields or ones I had made for me, how they moved in fighting, and it was a most impressive display in the art of self-defence, in the movements of the body to give the fullest protection of the shield, and in the manipulation of the shield to take the spear or throwing-knife obliquely. The hurling of weapons and the taking of them on the shield were accompanied by shouting the names of the kings of the parties involved. When the combatants had exhausted most of their weapons they withdrew to a safe distance where they challenged and insulted each other, as Schweinfurth noted was customary.

... Col. C. Chaillé Long, has described how in a fight with the Yanbari (?Nyangbara) he let loose his Azande (Adio or Makaraka Azande) on them:

I confess that I never saw a more perfect ideal of the warrior, not alone in muscular display, but in the bounding élan with which he flew rather than ran - the right hand grasping the huge knife, while with bouclier [ie shield] pressed closely to his side, he met the enemy. Covering his body with it with wonderful quickness from the deadly arrows, that his adversary in vain expended upon the broad shield, he threw himself upon him and cut and stabbed the defenceless yanbari to death. They burnt at least twenty villages and then ate the enemy dead [Col C Chaillé Long. Central Africa: Naked Truths of Naked People 1876 pp 286 - 287] ...

'Ture's fight with a man and his sister'

Azande, Southern Sudan.

There was a man and his sister who had a certain way of dancing which saved them from hunger, they became fat from this dance as though it were their food. The man had inherited a shield and the sister a buffalo's tail from their parents. They waved these things when they danced, the shield sounded like a bell and when the man danced it sang

'Bangbaguma paranga nzanga bangbaguma kinzikinzi'

If they didn't continue to dance they would die of hunger. Ture (a trickster) hid himself and watched the dancing and then rushed out and tried to take away the shield with its fine sound. Ture could not catch them so he consulted an oracle who said he should spread the juice of a creeper over their escape route which would make it very slippery. Ture did this and obtained the shield but it would not make the noise for him. The man and his sister became very thin because Ture had taken away their shield. They went to see Ture who had asked many people to dance with the shield and make it sing, though none had succeeded. Eventually Ture agreed to let the man hold the shield and make it sound, as soon as the man got near to the shield he became fat and sleek. When he started to dance the shield sang and his sister danced after him with her buffalo tail. The sound of the shield resembled a drum and it attracted crowds of people to come and dance, the longer the dance went on the fatter the man and his sister became and the people danced so much they were black with sweat. The man and his sister returned home with the shield and the buffalo tail. The dance of the people was spoilt. Ture said "If I had known that the man was the rightful owner I would not have let him have the shield back, and they would have died of hunger, for they do not eat food, their only food is their dancing."

(Retold from 'The Zande Trickster', E. E. Evans-Pritchard)

Return to top of page

More about African shields in general

Back to main shields page