Mandingo Spear: Anthropology Object of the Month for June 2011

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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 fieldwork.



Patrick R. McNaughton

1993       The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa.  Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

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