Congo Prestige Axe

Elaborate axes were created in the Congo region as royal scepters, potent symbols of civilization and cultural achievement. They were produced by highly skilled smiths and represented the body of esoteric skills and knowledge associated with ironworking, an activity rich in practical as well as supernatural and mythic significance. Like a wide variety of ceremonial weapons across Africa, Congolese axes present an array of imaginative and sometimes abstract forms, as found here.

Sourced in the Irebu area near the confluence of the Congo and Ubangi Rivers, this axe features a pointed, bilaterally symmetrical blade, roughly arrowhead-shaped, with extended, backward-angled wings. A horizontal bar, beveled and notched with chisel work, extends from the back of the blade and passes through the finial of the haft, which is carved with a stylized head. There it was hammered flat to hold the blade fast. The short, dark haft curves backward as it descends, ending in a hemispherical terminal. A small collection number label is found on the side of the haft near the finial.

An axe almost identical to this one, collected in 1889, is held in the collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University.

 

19th century
19” h  11 ¾” w
Wood, metal
Provenance: Private New England collection
#547
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