Shona Ceremonial Dagger
Bakatwa were and are passed down from generation to generation in a lineage, and were used in religious rituals to symbolise the presence of the owner’s ancestors, the sword’s previous owners.
Approx Age: Late 19th-early 20th Century
Materials: Wood, metal and brass wire
Dimensions cm: 21 tall not including the stand.
Ref. Number: 1842
A stunning ceremonial Shona dagger/knife and scabbard are known as ‘Bakatwa’. Beautifully carved and exquisitely adorned with typical Shona wire work. A hand-made metal presentation stand will accompany this lovely late 19th-century piece. The blade is tight to push in all the way to the scabbard as I believe the wood has shrunk over the years.
Provenance: Ex-Patrick Durrand, Paris, France.
The bakatwa is a double-edged sword used in religious ceremonies, distinguished by its blade – double-edged with one half being darkly coloured – and its sheath (hara) made of two pieces of wood that are beautifully bound together with brass wire.
In historical times, all Shona men carried a knife or sword of some kind, for use in self-defence and hunting. The ceremonial bakatwa, however, was never used in this way and was accorded a high level of prestige in traditional Shona religious practice.
Bakatwa were and are passed down from generation to generation in a lineage, and were used in religious rituals to symbolise the presence of the owner’s ancestors, the sword’s previous owners. In these rituals, the owner addressed the bakatwa as if it was the physical embodiment of his ancestors. This link between the spirits and these swords also meant that n’angas (diviner-healers) and svikiros (spirit mediums) carried them as the insignia of their profession. Certain Shona hunters were traditionally believed to be under the spiritual influence and guidance of deceased hunters, known as shave spirits, so they also carried bakatwa as a symbol of their spirit ally (Pitt Rivers Museum, Bakatwa, n.d.).
Shona traditional healer in practice.
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