This ceremonial spear comes from the Mandingo tribe of Guinea,
Africa. Benjamin Franklin Powell collected this spear circa 1925
while he was representing the government of Liberia in delimiting
the boundary between Liberia and French Guinea (now Guinea).
Estimated to be from around 1900, the spear came with a large
donation of objects and sculptures from West Africa given to the
Denver Museum of Nature & Science by Powell. Several of
the sculptures donated by him were also used in the "Cabinet of
Curiosities" exhibit at the Museum around 1999.
Located primarily in the West African countries of Guinea, Mali,
Senegal, and Liberia, the Mandingo are part of the larger Mande
linguistic group. For almost 400 years, the Mandingo have been
known for their metalwork. In 1623, it was noted by Richard
Jobson that Mandingo blacksmiths were making swords, spears, and
agricultural tools (McNaughton, 1993). Used as weapons or for
ceremonies, spears were important objects in many West African
cultures. According to Museum records, ceremonial spears such as
this one were held by the chief of the Mandingo tribe whenever he
passed a judgment or new law.
This iron spear is decorated with pieces of crocodile and
leopard skin, as well as small areas of basketweaving and a waxed
string design segment.
This item was chosen and researched by Anthropology Collections
Assistant Bethany Williams. She has an affinity for items in the
DMNS African collections after having spent time in Tanzania doing
Patrick R. McNaughton
1993 The Mande Blacksmiths:
Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa. Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
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