Many people think of the Zulu assegai and Maasai spear when they think of African weapons. There are many other famous and rare tribal African weapons traded on the world market by collectors, or that are considered museum pieces. Some of these weapons are ancient. All had the power to terrify. Here are 12 terrifying but real weapons used in Africa.
The Maasai morans of East Africa, specifically Tanzania, use this traditional club, which is essentially a throwing club. The weapon usually consists of an 18-to-20-inch narrow shaft with a heavy knob at the end. In the Maasai culture the weapon signifies a warrior’s status. Young Maasai men compete for prestige, bragging rights and a prized breeding bull at the Maasai Olympics — a biennial event focused on ending the Maasai cultural tradition of killing lions.
A sjambok is a leather whip traditionally made from the skin of a hippopotamus and used to drive cattle, but plastic versions emerged for police in South Africa to use in riot control. The sjambok was used long before apartheid, but became synonymous with the apartheid era. Variations are used in other parts of Africa and the world. The name is thought to have originated from Indonesia.
The Hakim rifle (the middle rifle in the photo) is a gas-powered semi-automatic rifle. The rifle was Swedish designed but eventually the design was sold to Egypt, where it was used in the 1950s and 1960s. The flow of gas impacts the front face of the bolt carrier, sending it to the back of the gun, which launches the bolt.
The Rasheed (the bottom one in the photo) is a rifle that was once used by the Egyptian military and is similar to the Hakim but it has a permanently attached pivoting-blade bayonet. Only about 8,000 Rasheeds exist and they’re valued at around $1,000 each.
The assegai is a spear or javelin made of wood with a point of iron, used for throwing or hurling. The Zulu and other Nguni tribes in South Africa used assegai in battles against British colonial armies. They were the most common weapons before guns were introduced. After they’d struck an enemy with the assegai, they’d close in for the kill with shorter weapons.
The Scud was a category of tactical ballistic missile made by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Scuds didn’t make it too far around the world but at one point Egypt possessed a version that could carry nuclear, chemical, conventional or fragmentation weapons.
A Sebastopol was a large artillery cannon that fired explosive projectile bombs. One was sent to Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Tiewodros II in the mid 1800s. A Sebastopol weighed around 6.7 tons and could fire half-ton artillery rounds. There are no records of the mortar being used in the battle but it can still be seen in Ethiopia, half buried in the ground on a plateau at Meqedela near Amba Mariam.
The mamba pistol was the first semi-automatic weapon made completely of stainless steel. Used in South Africa, it’s named after the mamba snake that spits out deadly venom. Only 80 mamba pistols were imported to the U.S. before it was discontinued.
The mambele is a curved throwing dagger originally used by the Mangbetu people of the DRC. It was used in the Upper Nile area, Central and Southern Africa. In some parts of Central Africa the knife was carved to resemble a bird’s head. Some were multi pronged or bulbous. It could be used in close combat. It reflected the culture of Africa before western colonization.
The kpinga is a bladed throwing knife used by the Azande of Nubia, a region that covered parts of Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt. Traditional versions were about 22 inches long and had three different shaped blades jutting out from different parts of a staff, making it deadly. Among the Azande, a kpinga would be a part of the dowry that a man paid to his bride’s family.
The nzappa zap is a traditional weapon of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The weapon resembles a hatchet and can be used for throwing short distances or hand-to-hand combat. It’s comparable to the American tomahawk.
A shotel is a curved, sickle-shaped sword first made in ancient Ethiopia. The blade is flat and double-edged, around 40 inches long. Warriors used the shotel to hook and rip invading soldiers off their horses.