This fine, ceremonial axe handle or sceptre has been shaped as an antelope with long pointy horns. The handle is brown but with blackened horns, muzzle and detail on the shaft. The cheeks are decorated with incised scarification.
Such handles seem to have been used more as sceptres rather than as actual axes. They were fitted with weak, small blades. The relative lack of functionality of these blades underscores such items’ ceremonial or ritual use. The example here appears not to have been fitted with a blade at all although a cavity is present through which a blade could be fixed.
Christie’s Paris in their ‘Art Africain et Oceanien’ sale of June 20, 2006, had a very similar antelope handle (fitted with a blade) which is ascribed to Zambia (lot 225). Click here to see this example. Another similar antelope axe and handle, collected in 1900, comprised lot 170 of Christie’s London, ‘Tribal Art’ sale, June 22, 1981.
Another similar example, not fitted with a blade but again carved with an antelope’s head, is illustrated in Coquet (1998, p. 115) and is described as a wooden sceptre from the Nyamwezi people of Tanzania. The Nyamwezi are a Bantu group of southern Africa, a group which includes the Tsonga and Zulu.
The example here is without losses or restoration. There is an old, stable, superficial crack to one side of the head (to be expected) and minor scuffing or scratching elsewhere. Overall, it has a fine patina consistent with a 19th century dating.
Coquet, M., African Royal Court Art, University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Giblin, J., & C. Spring, South Africa: The Art of a Nation, Thames & Hudson/The British Museum, 2016.