Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Mangbetu sickle knife (Trombasc)

Catalog Number: E010


44.0 x 19.5 x 2.5 cm


Country of Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Materials: Brass
Usage: N/A
Detailed Description of Significance:

Sickle swords or knives such as this conveyed power in the culture of the Mangbetu, a people from what is now the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The weapon served as a prestige object for people of high political office. The holes in the blade allowed it to hold buttons made of copper that further advertised their bearer’s martial prowess or military rank.

This artifact is a double-edged sword typical of the Mangbetu people whose arts and crafts have been known and admired by Europeans since the late nineteenth century when Europeans first encountered the palace of the king and the fine quality of Mangbetu art.

The Mangbetu are a small ethnic group of about 40,000 people living in the northern regions of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

As in Africa and much of the world, symbols of royal authority allude to the ruler’s powers of life and death.  The trombase is a stylized weapon made of costly materials but it could easily inflict grave injury. 

Mangbetu knives usually consist of a wooden handle (there are also those that are decorated with ivory) with a cylindrical knob often decorated with upholstery nails or strips of brass or copper.  The blade has three holes drilled into the heel and is decorated with a central rib leaving two grooves on each side.