century of africa

Sudanese Shield, 19th Century

Composed of concentric rings of cane covered in light brown cotton, with a pattern in blue. There is a central boss to which is attached a cross of radial reinforcing bars. The rim is reinforced with an iron band. All the ironwork is blackened. Inside is a square pad covered with leather, with three plaited leather grips and a short sling.

Dimensions: The diameter of the shield is 369 mm. Weight: The weight of the shield is 1.7 kg.

© Royal Armouries

“Heywood offers a complex and layered narrative that significantly enhances our knowledge about Njinga, the memorable ruler who defied colonial power in seventeenth-century Central Africa. In addition to being a tour de force of historical analysis that will mesmerize scholars, this powerful and moving book will delight Njinga’s many admirers, for the African queen occupies a vital place both in the national identity of Angola and in the memory of people of African descent in the Americas.”

Likishi dance costume of the Luvale people, Zambia, including the mwana pwevo mask and a pair of rattles made from seed pods, worn around the ankles.  Artist unknown; late 19th or early 20th century.  Now in the Brooklyn Museum.  Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum.


A selection of photographs of members of The African Choir taken at the Regent Street premises of the London Stereoscopic Company in 1891. Each choir member was photographed and their images published in an article in The Illustrated London News.The choir was composed of 16 members belonging to the Xhosa, Fengu, Tembu, Bapedi, Basuto, and Zulu tribes of South Africa. The group formed to raise funds for a Christian college to be built in their home country. They toured Britain from 1891 to 1893, giving many performances, including one for Queen Victoria at Osborne House, her residence on the Isle of Wight.

Sword (Kaskara)

Date: hilt, late 19th century; blade, 1848–96

Culture: hilt, Sudanese; blade, Iranian

Medium: Steel, copper alloy, wood, leather, gold

Dimensions: L. 40 ½ in. (103 cm); L. of blade 34 11/16 in. (88 cm); Gr. W. of blade 1 ¾ in. (4.3 cm); W. of guard 6 ½ in. (16.5 cm); Wt. 2 lbs. 14 oz. (1304.1 g)

Classification: Swords

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1977

Accession Number: 1977.162.1

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 380

Straight-bladed swords with cruciform guards and disk-shaped pommels, known as kaskaras, are typical of the Sahara region, particularly Sudan. While the hilt of this example was locally made, the fine blade of crucible (“watered”) steel is Iranian and bears the name of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, who ruled Iran from 1848 to 1896. This sword was taken as booty by the British general James Grenfell Maxwell at the battle of Omdurman, during the Mahdi uprising in Sudan, on September 2, 1898.

Mwaash aMbooy mask of the Kuba people, Lulua Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Made of painted parchment, decorated with cowrie shells, beads, and human hair.  Artist unknown; late 19th/early 20th century.  Now in the Brooklyn Museum.  Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum.