Dahomean Hwi (Benin)

Dahomey hwi knife

Code AN37

This knife is called a hwi and it originates from Benin in West Africa. Benin was formerly called Dahomey during the colonial period.  This hwi has a total length of 13 ½ inches. The blade is 6 ¾ inches long from the base of the hilt. The blade tapers gently on both sides from 1 ¼ inch wide at the hilt to 1 ¾ inches at the widest portion.  The blade has a very rough, hand-forged slighly diamond-shaped cross section.  Existing varnish on the blade, added a long time ago, has not yet been removed.  The reddish marks in the photo are not rust.  Both inner and outer edges of the blade are sharp.  The hilt is carved wood with a geometrical design.  At the pommel is a wood and unknown metal fastener that probably helps secure the blade in the hilt.  Detail photos of the blade and hilt are shown in photos below.

There is wide variety seen in the shapes, sizes, styles and decoration of hwi from the Dahomey period.  In part this is due to the various kings' love of weapons.  On the left below is a close-up of the blade.  Compare this with the sword shown on the left side of the image next to the blade.  This image is a drawing of a bas relief found on the palace of King Kpengla (1744-1789) representing his throne. The shapes and sizes are consistent, suggesting this blade could date as early as those years although it is more likely to be far younger due to its relatively good condition.

Users of knives like these in Dahomey warfare were known as "mowers".  It is thought that they followed the front line of troops as they advanced and made sure the enemy's dead and dying were "finished" by decapitation.  

Blade detail, Dahomey hwi knifeDahomey era illustration showing hwi knife
Hilt detail, Dahomey hwi knife
Dahomey. Warriors w bows1920