Shona Ceremonial Prestige Staffs / Scepters Gano / Tsvimbo

Extremely rare double-pronged Ceremonial / Prestige Shona axe with a very scarce matching two-tone, amasumpa embellished spear from the 19th Century. In very good condition considering age. Both staffs have a beautiful, intense, deep patina with brass thread intricately wrapped around the handles. In untouched, original condition.

Time Period: 19th – Early 20th c

Origin: Shona People (Southern Africa)

Materials: African Blackwood, Iron, Brass wire

Provenance: Scottish private collector

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According to the Shona people, Gano, also known as humbwa or tsomho, is a cultural and utility axe. It is smaller and lighter than the normal axe. The gano is very popular during cultural festivals or religious ceremonies as it comes handy during accompanying dances. It served as a symbol of cultural and spiritual prestige. (The Patriot).

* Ellert 1984 p37-39

“[T]he humbwa or gano … was much used for defence and hunting.  The hunting of elephants by men armed with the gano is vividly reported upon by early Portuguese chroniclers ….

“The gano or battle axe can be divided into two separate types[;] the first is the large semi-circular bladed weapon (ruwe) where the axe head is attached to the handle (manyenza) as pictured in the illustrations.  The central metal stem is often decorated with cross-hatching and other designs during manufacture.  Of this type, some are more sturdy than others according to the intended purpose.  Gano used for elephant hunting is very strong and durable and looks practical and effective.

“The second type of gano appears to be more symbolic or decorative.  Whatever the case, many of these weapons are extremely fine pieces of craftsmanship.  The gano handle (manyenza) is made from carefully selected fine grain dark or black wood. They are well balanced and often decorated with brass or copper wire.  Centuries ago this would have been gold wire.  The blades were often inscribed with cross-hatching combining with the rest to produce a truly splendid work of art.  Gano of this type generally measures some 50 cm in length with the steel blade some 8 cm to 20 cm from point to point.

[…]  “The large semi-circular bladed gano is normally carried slung across the right shoulder of the man while he walks in an area where he might meet trouble.  Otherwise, the weapon will be slung across the opposite shoulder — of course depending upon whether he is right or left-handed.”
* Spring 1993 p135

“The battleaxe, gano, … has become, in more recently made ornamental versions, the identifying mark of the Shona spirit medium, mhondoro, whose duty is to protect the chief and his family.  Ritual specialists, nganga, also carry this axe.  More broadly, the gano symbolises the legitimate owner of the land and is therefore used in modern ceremonies to denote the [Zimbabwe] nation’s independence.”


These extremely rare, beautifully crafted Shona sceptres are in very good condition considering their age. Both staffs have a beautiful, intense, deep, tribal patina with brass thread which was ingeniously wrapped around the shafts. Most importantly, the pair do not have any sign of damage or missing parts, in fact, both have untouched patina.


  • Shona / Tsonga Tribes – current Zimbabwe circa the mid-1800s during famous Spiritual Leader Pasipamire, medium of the spirit Chaminuka. 
  • Most likely belonged to someone of high social standing such as a Chief, Spiritual Leader or Monarchy


  • incised geometric engravings
  • with highly stylized carving and intricate copper wirework
  • Extremely unique double spiked engraved iron blade


The wood is dark dense rare African Blackwood (Pterocarpus angolensis). African Blackwood is one of the coveted and most expensive woods in the world, prized for rare qualities like waxiness and a dark color that make it desirable for woodwind instruments and fine furniture. Carvings are made from an entire piece of the trunk and are therefore limited by the thickness of the trunk. However, only the heartwood is used for the axe. If you observe closely, from time to time a little of the light sapwood is incorporated as seen on the spear shaft.


Both in untouched condition showing traces of frayed and loose strands of wire around the wood attesting to years of use /commensurate to age.


Wire bound strands typical of renowned Shona artist’s style during the mid 19th Century.

HC – Mambo

British Museum Registration number: Af1954,+23.2828
Carl Gösta Widstrand: African Axes (1958); pg. 83,84, fig. 226
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