Kuba Ikul Swords (Zambia)

Two Ikul short swords of the Kuba tribe of Zambia


Code:  AS2, AS3


These Ikul (“short sword”) of the Kuba tribe (Bakuba, Bushongo) were an object of status.  The name also translates as “Peace sword”, as Ikul were not sharpened or meant for every day use.  The Ikul was an object of presige, worn tucked in the back of a man’s sash.  All adult Kuba men carried the ikul in historical times. Kuba warriors were well known for their ferocity and perhaps this trait saved them from slavery in any great number.  The Kuba, like many other African tribes, kept slaves for work and ritual purposes.

The two swords shown here represent the fully developed form of the ikul, with a wide blade, a particular leaf-shaped form, and wooden hilts without decoration.  These were probably made prior to missionary contact, circa mid 19th century.

These two swords were purchased at a Sunday “flea market” in Bethesda, MD from a vendor selling African art and artifacts.  I spied them underneath a pile of other stuff - two rusty pieces of metal - and brought them out.  After haggling, a long lunch, and another haggle on the way to the car, I was able to purchase them for an excellent price. I started to clean the one on the right but have left the other untouched.

The Kuba reside along the Snakkuru River, with a history intertwined with greater Zimbabwe and Benin (formerly Dahomy).  Like many cultures, they prized objects of the highest standard, particularly those made for royalty.