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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst


Culture:African; Luba people; Democratic Republic of the Congo
Title:Ceremonial Axe (Kafundashi)
Date Made:late 19th century - early 20th century
Materials:iron and wood
Place Made:Africa; Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire)
Measurements:overall: 15 3/4 x 9 x 2 7/8 in.; 40.005 x 22.86 x 7.3025 cm
Narrative Inscription:  unmarked
Accession Number:  SC 1939.9.1
Credit Line:Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund

Currently on view

metal decorated knife with long carved wood handle ending with a head wearing elaborately dressed hair

Label Text:
This remarkable axe was the first African art object purchased by Smith College. These ceremonial objects could only be owned by men and women who were Luba kings, titled members of the king’s court, spiritual leaders, or specialized military figures.

A woodcarver and a blacksmith collaborated to make these highly specialized objects. They are worn with the blade hooked over the left shoulder to signify rank during public events. They are also danced during ceremonies and could, if the occasion warranted, be used as a weapon.

Some axes feature the blade emerging from the mouth of the woman, while others—like this one—place the blade at the opposite end. While this design gives the female head a more delicate and refined position, it means she is displayed upside-down when the blade is worn over the shoulder.

Susan E. Kart '96, Assistant Professor of the Arts of Africa, Lehigh University (2018)


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