Prestige Knife

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

Object Place: Democratic Republic of the Congo


Height x width: 48 x 18 in. (121.92 x 45.72 cm)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

wood and metal

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art


Warfare, hunting, fishing

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.

This knife takes its inspiration from the Ngala execution knife. However, the sickle shape has been transformed into a crescent moon. The two protruding blades are reminiscent of abstracted outstretched human arms. The handle is decorated with copper bands and wire. A knife such as this was likely made for ceremonial purposes.


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