Throwing knives from Central Africa

Luc Lefebvre

As their name suggests, these knives are meant to be thrown. They are classified in the category of offensive weapons. The multi-bladed throwing knife is a purely African invention, often considered the culmination of the blacksmith’s skill. Other civilizations used throwing weapons such as axes, but without the sophistication found in Central Africa. They are comprised of a blade and a handle. Classically, the blade consists of a central axis supplemented by several branches, which increase the probability of contact with the target. It has a flat side, the back, and a convex side, the front, for better aerodynamics. It is made ofiron, but there are also rare models in copper and brass. The handle located at the bottom of the axis is covered with a shock-resistant, flexible material: leather, vegetable fibers, or metal wires or strips. There are many nuances. We can find two planes of symmetry for the placement of the branches on an axial stem, but not always. The faces are sometimes flat or convex on both sides. Like a glove, the weapon is designed only for either right-hand or left-hand use, and most models are designed to be thrown with the right hand. The branches (wings) have one or more cutting edges, with pointed or rounded tips. Sometimes appendages or hooks are added. The most variation is found with the materials used for the grips. There are even weapons with the attributes of the throwing knives described above, outfitted with handles that are wood or ivory: materials so fragile that they render the knives completely unfit for throwing. They are nevertheless classified as throwing knives. Which brings us back to the initial premise: were these knives all designed to be thrown?