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An Askari guard at an Allied air training school at Waterkloof, Pretoria, South Africa. (January 1943)

An assegai or assagai (Arabic az-zaġāyah, originally from Berber zaġāya "spear", Old French azagaie, Spanish azagaya, Italian zagaglia) is a pole weapon used for throwing or hurling, usually a light spear or javelin made of wood and pointed with iron.

Area of use

The use of various types of the assegai was widespread all over Africa and it was the most common weapon used before the introduction of firearms. The Zulu and other Nguni tribes of South Africa were renowned for their use of the assegai.

Zulu man with the shorter assegai

Shaka of the Zulu invented a shorter-style spear with a two foot shaft and which had a larger, broader blade one foot long. This weapon is otherwise known as the iklwa or ixwa, for it was the sound that was heard as it was withdrawn from the victim's wound. It was used as a stabbing weapon during mêlée attacks. The traditional spear was not discarded but was used for a softening range attack on enemy formations before closing in for close quarters battle with the assegai. This tactical combination originated during Shaka's military reforms.


It is also the name of a southern African tree (Curtisia dentata) whose wood was suitable for making spears or lances, most notably by the Bantu peoples of southern Africa.

See also


as·se·gai or as·sa·gai  (s-g)n.1. A light spear or lance, especially one with a short shaft and long blade for close combat, used by Bantu peoples of southern Africa. sourced from -

  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press 

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