AskDefine | Define assegai

Dictionary Definition

assegai n : the slender spear of the Bantu-speaking people of Africa [syn: assagai]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  • /'æsəgaɪ/


From azagaie (now zagaie) or Portuguese azagaia, Spanish azagaya, from colloquial زغاية, from zaġāya.


  1. A slim hardwood spear or javelin with an iron tip, especially those used by Bantu peoples of Southern Africa.
    • 1902, Jospeh Conrad, Heart of Darknessm Tank Form 2007, p. 99:
      Native mats covered the clay walls; a collection of spears, assegais, shields, knives was hung up in trophies.
    • 1922, James Joyce, Ulysses:
      A birdchief, bluestreaked and feathered in war panoply with his assegai, striding through a crackling canebrake over beechmast and acorns.
  2. The tree species Curtisia dentata, because its wood is traditionally used to made assegais.

Scientific names


slim hardwood spear or javelin with an iron tip
tree species Curtisia dentata


  1. To spear with an assegai.


Extensive Definition

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


The assegai was probably exported to the Iberian peninsula from Berber Africa although it resembled the ancient Iberians' falarica. The assegai became popular among the Christian warriors of the Reconquista and was used extensively throughout the High Middle Ages. The 14th century Catalan Christian foot mercenaries called the Almogàvers wielded this weapon to great effect throughout southern Europe and the Levant.


The use of various types of the assegai was spread all over Africa and it was the most common weapon there. The Zulu and other Nguni tribes of South Africa were renowned for their use of the assegai. Shaka of the Zulu invented a shorter-style assegai which had a larger, broader blade. This weapon was known as the iklwa or ixwa – for the sound that was heard as it was withdrawn from the victim's wound – and was used as a stabbing weapon during mêlée attacks. The traditional assegai was not discarded but was used for a softening range attack on enemy formations before closing in for close quarters battle with the iklwa. This tactical combination originated at Shaka's military reforms much resembled the Roman's tactical combination of pilum and gladius.


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.

External links


assegai in Aragonese: Sagailla
assegai in Spanish: Azagaya
assegai in French: Sagaie
assegai in Italian: Zagaglia
assegai in Lithuanian: Asegajus
assegai in Polish: Assegai
assegai in Finnish: Assegai
assegai in Swedish: Assegaj
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