Today I would like to introduce you to some very, very special guests. A set of particularly wicked throwing implements. Following are examples of one of the more historic and rare forms of throwing knives, originating in Africa, that are certainly one of my most favored, unique, and rarely seen throwing knife designs. Grab yourself a cup of tea, coffee, vodka and tonic, or a lemon-lime mocha frappuccino – if that’s what floats your boat (though I would have some serious concerns about you if it does) and make yourself comfortable, as I present to you, my favorite throwing knives of Africa.
Now these have been called a number of different names, most notably “Shongo”, “Kpinga”, “Sapa” and one of the most popular (probably an butchered version of one of it’s tribal names) : “Hunga-Munga”, names which seem to be used, incorrectly, to describe nearly every form of this kind of blade. It is important to remember that, as you can see from just the two examples above, there are actually many different variations on this blade, each from their own unique African tribe; many of them were not named, and the ones that were likely had a unique name depending on where it was made and which tribe it was from. But one thing is universally certain, these are some hella crazy throwing blades, no matter what you wanna call them!
What is also cool is that this blade design has actually made it into Hollywood! In the movie “The Mummy Returns” we can clearly see one of the baddies toting one of these blades in his belt in the small of his back:
Shortly thereafter we see him throw it, very narrowly missing a (very fortunate) protagonist:
YA MISSED!! (Whew!!)
Anyway, as you can see from the pics above, these blades generally have three points, give or take, depending on where it’s from, arranged in order to maximize the amount of time that any sticking points will be presented to a target. You will also notice, especially on the Banda tribe version, that every possible blade edge has been sharpened as well, to provide as many cutting edges as possible.
At the same time, this innovative design even allows for a handle, so that it can be thrown without injuring the thrower. Genius! African weapon engineering at its best. They certainly beat the Hollywood glaives I’ve been ranting about hands down, though they do so at the cost of portability, which I will talk about shortly.
To me, the most interesting aspects of these particular blades is how their cool and evil looking aesthetics are entirely functionally motivated. The observant will notice that these designs are asymmetrical, unlike similar smaller weapons like hira shuriken, Or even equivalent weapons like the fuuma shuriken, where all the blades/points are arranged radially around it’s center of rotation. I believe the asymmetry of the design served a specific purpose.
Smaller throwing weapons like hira shuriken are symmetrically designed in order to periodically present a sharp point to the target during flight, regardless of what direction it is rotating. However a hira shuriken are light, usually only a few inches in diameter, designed for speedy deployment, can be held between the fingers or in the palm of one hand, and can easily be thrown in a controlled fashion with a light grip.
Not so with these blades. What may not be apparent from these pictures is that these African throwing knives can be over a foot and a half in length, with the combination of large mass and razor sharp edges intended to inflict massive cuts on impact. To safely control such a weapon in battle, you need a handle. But adding handles always reduces the chances for a throwing weapon to stick, due to the possibility of the handle hitting the target.
Their solution was to build a small handle into the design, and skillfully position the blades so that the desired balance of the weapon was not negatively affected, angling all of the points in one direction, and then shrouding the handle with a blade pointing in the same direction. The end result? A directional throwing knife with almost the same the sticking potential of the much smaller shuriken, the mass of a throwing axe, with a safe, built in throwing handle for maximum power and control. These folks design a mean weapon!
The only (minor) caveat to this design is that, unlike most hira shuriken, these knives have to be thrown with all of the points facing the target in order to maximize the chance of a stick. Throwing it backwards could still wound an enemy if they were struck by a blade, but your risk hitting with the handle and bouncing off. But unlike a hira shuriken, thrown properly from the hands of a fairly strong warrior, it would be more than just a distraction. This weapon could take you out of a battle very quickly. Without the need for poison either.
What was even scarier about these weapons is that their design is such that, if they hit the side of an opponents shield, its rotating momentum and mass would keep it rotating long enough to cause it to hook on to the edge of the shield and rotate around it and hit the unfortunate victim on the other side. Talk about a clever (albeit very mean) design. Throw in their size, their sharp lines and (of course!) their many pointy bits, you can probably see why I like these weapons so much. Their dark metallic finish just adds to their evil charm. They are just so freaking cool and intimidating all at the same time, on so many levels… What more is there to say?