War Sword (Ilwoon)
Bushoong Clan, Kuba People
Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire)
early 20th century or earlier
This spatula-shaped knife or ilwoon has eleven small hammer marks that form an S-shape on one side of the blade. These marks were made from the reverse of the blade to provide a negative mirror image on each side of the blade. It is symmetrical in shape. The blade is of locally-forged iron and is in fine condition without significant oxidation. It is polished towards the edges and blackened in the middle to form a spatula in silhouette. The blade flares out slightly from the top of wooden hilt and extends for approximately 15 centimetres before flaring out again to form a concave tip. The fuller extends from the top of the hilt for approximately 23 centimetres before flaring into a triangular form.
The blade tang is inserted through the centre of the wooden handle. The hilt is fashioned from a single piece of wood. Its pommel is stained black. Its base is circular in shape, slightly curved and decorated by small hemispherical metal pins. The hilt is concave from the top of the pommel to form a short cylindrical body before it flares to a flatter oval form where it joins the blade. The flatter part of the hilt is wrapped with copper and iron strips. These strips begin where the blade joins the hilt and their ends are hammered into slots in the wood to secure them. The decoration extends by a string of polished wire in brass that wraps around the middle of the hilt. A small portion of the wood is revealed in the middle, cylindrical part of the hilt. The top of the hilt, where it joins the blade tang, was originally decorated with five small and polished hemispherical brass pins on each side. One is now missing on one side; two are deficient on the other.
Principally a weapon of war, an
ilwoon was also worn as part of a dance costume at the funeral of the chiefs.
The Kuba Kingdom (1625-1900) was a pre-colonial central African state within Zaire (known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo today). It began as a loose conglomerate of several tribes with no central authority. Around 1625, Shyaam a-Mbul Ngoong-Shyaam united all the tribes under his leadership. According to folklore, Shyaam a-Mbul was the adopted son of a Kuba queen.
African Forms, Skira editore, 2000.
Acquired in the early 1970s at Wallis & Wallis by the previous owner.
Inventory no.: 892