Ancient African Swords

In the pre-colonial era of Africa, many of the kingdoms specialized in metallurgy for the crafting of swords, knives, bows and arrows, and spears.

While a majority of their work was in the design of spears and knives for weapons, there are some that did create swords.

It must be noted that a lot of the ancient African weapons were used for both battle, a type of currency for exchange, as well as for members of the royal families as ceremonial pieces.

Those talented in metal work also created metal tools that were used in the fields and for moving throughout dense forests.

African Swords

Almost all of the kingdoms made use of supporting materials for their weapons, including thick sturdy foliage, animal hides, and even tree bark. Daggers, swords, and knives were created for a number of purposes, but when used in battle they were for close hand-to-hand combat.

Many of the ancient African kingdoms specialized in working various types of metals, but since a majority of their battles were close contact, they preferred daggers and slightly longer knives.

Ethiopian Weapons

The Ethiopians created mostly traditional shields and swords, most commonly made from rhino or hippo hide that was formed into circular shapes. While the hide was soft, they often hammered bumps that they thought were decorative.

Palace guards carried ceremonial swords and the swords were considered to be a symbol of honor.  Ethiopians had a sickle-shaped, curved sword called a “shotel.” The blade was double-edged and flat, and was around 40” long.

This sword was incredibly well-designed as the warriors could use the shotel to first “hook” their enemy off of their horses and then kill them.

Ancient African Swords

Traditional Kenyan Weapons

The people of Kenya turned the standard craft of creating weapons into a true art. Ancient artifacts have been found of the beauty of the Maasai shield made of buffalo hide that was sewn to a wooden frame.

The Kenyans made use of a few types of weapons, including a club or knobkerry called the “rungu.”  This was typicall made from the root of a very hard tree.

They also had the “simi”, a long-bladded dagger that they stored in a sheath made of leather.

A majority of their weapons were leaf-shaped spears mounted on wooden shafts as well as javelins.

Congo Blades

Tribes and kingdoms within the Congo specialized in creating their Bakuba shields. These were used together with their daggers and blades to demonstrate their defensive skills.

Bakupa spears were designed in graceful and artistic style and many were used in battle, for currency, and for their ceremonies.

They also had carved bladed daggers that were kept in wooden hilts that were carried by their kings and on display when not carried around. The blade covers were also in hand-woven palm fiber called “raffia.”

Mambele Knife

The Mangbetu people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) lived and still live in Central and Southern African and the Upper Nile area.

Mambele Knife

They used the mambele throwing dagger that was curved and often carved to look like the head of a bird. Some mambele were bulbous, while others had multiple prongs.


The area of Africa of Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan was inhabited by the Azanda of Nubia.

They used a throwing knife called the “kpinga” that was about 22” long and the traditional style had three different shaped blades jutting out from three different parts of the staff.

This made the kpinga incredibly dangerous. The kpinga was so highly valued that it was often used as part of a dowry that a man would pay to the family of his future bride.

Nzappa zap

The “nzzappa zap” is also another DRC traditional weapon. It looks somewhat like a hatchet and is used for hand-to-hand combat as well as throwing it short distances. Some have compared it to the American tomahawk.

  • Figures of various ancestors called “Tellem” were often carved on the handles of ceremonial knives and swords.
  • Daggers made by the Somali people had hilts that were often combined with ebony wood and inlaid with metals such as brass, copper, and iron.
  • Decorating hilts and dagger and sword belts were part of ownership and these were often covered in geometric designs and elaborate patterns.


How long was the average Ethopian “shotel?”


What American weapon was the nzappa zap compared to?


What other use was the Azanda “kpinga” used for?


Why was the kpinga considered to be so dangerous?

it had three different shaped blades jutting out from three different parts of the staff

Why did ancient African warriors prefer daggers and knives?

most of their battles involved hand-to-hand contact

What are some of the other uses for the highly prized knives and daggers of ancient Africa?

currency, royalty, and ceremonies