Prestige Axe

African, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sapo peoples
20th century
Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Democratic Republic of the Congo


Overall: 47 x 26 x 6 cm (18 1/2 x 10 1/4 x 2 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, metal (sheet copper covering handle, copper alloy on blade)

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art


Axes, maces, clubs

Iron knives, swords, and other weapons are more than armaments; they are powerful symbols of prestige and authority. Many weapons are intricately adorned with abstract geometric patterns, figurative elements, western-made objects, and copper accents, all of which are intended to increase the status of the object’s owner. In addition to the functional and ceremonial aspects of African weaponry, iron blades were excellent trade items that could function as currency.

Prestige weapons can be used as insignias for high-ranking members of society. Because copper is both difficult to work with and expensive, jewelry and prestige items made from copper are associated with high-ranking members of society. Often, each side of the axe’s blade is adorned with a human face.


Geneviève McMillan (b. 1922 - d. 2008), Cambridge, MA; 2008, to the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation, Cambridge; 2009, gift of the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 17, 2009)

Credit Line

Gift of Geneviève McMillan in memory of Reba Stewart