Massive Iron Currency Blade
Nkutshu, Topoke & Songo Meno Peoples, Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
late 19th century
height: 167cm, width: 39cm
At around one-and-two-thirds of a metre tall, this extraordinary and huge iron blade has a striking presence. Such blades were used by various tribal groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a form of currency. They were used to close a variety of important transactions such as land deals and according to Ginzberg (2000, p. 193) at one time, twenty to thirty would have bought a bride.
It is forged from a single piece of iron with light ribbing to both edges, front and back.
Metal currency pre-dated minted coinage in Africa by many centuries. Often, it took the form of an exaggerated form of familiar, utilitarian objects such as enormous spear heads (
liganda doa) of the Topoke people. In some respects, the increasingly large forms of currency might represent a form of monetary inflation.
A currency blade of almost identical form, size and markings currently is on display in the British Museum. According to the British Museum, the early twentieth century anthropologist Emil Torday reported that the large currency blades (
woshele) of the Nkutshu and related people were equivalent to 1,250 hoe heads (iwenga) which in turn, were ‘worth’ five smaller hoe heads (wudjwe). The woshele was made in the form of a throwing knife.
Ginzberg (2000, p. 193) illustrates another, comparable example.
In terms of display, the blade is very striking and sculptural. It sits in its own custom-made floor stand and in decorative terms would work well in a variety of settings. It would be particularly attractive in a modern setting as if a piece of contemporary sculpture.
UK art market.
Mack, J., Emil Torday and the Art of the Congo 1900-1909, British Museum, 1990; & Ginzberg, M., African Forms, Skira Editions, 2000.
Inventory no.: 1093
Detail: Crucifix stamped to the side of the bowl.