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A guard with assegai in South Africa, 1943.

Alternative forms[edit]


From French azagaie (now zagaie) or Portuguese azagaia, Spanish azagaya, and later in the forms that have become most common borrowed from Afrikaans assegaai, from colloquial Arabic اَلزَّغَايَة(az-zaḡāya), from Proto-Berber *zaġāya (spear).



assegai (plural assegais)

  1. A slim hardwood spear or javelin with an iron tip, especially those used by Bantu peoples of Southern Africa.
    • 1880, Richard Francis Burton, Os Lusíadas, volume I, page 33:
      But now the Moormen, stalking o'er the strand / to guard the wat'ery stores the strangers need; / this, targe on arm and assegai in hand, / that, with his bended bow, and venom'd reed[.]
    • 1897 December (indicated as 1898), Winston Churchill, chapter VIII, in The Celebrity: An Episode, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., OCLC 222716698:
      My client welcomed the judge […] and they disappeared together into the Ethiopian card-room, which was filled with the assegais and exclamation point shields Mr. Cooke had had made at the sawmill at Beaverton.
    • 1899 Feb, Joseph Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness”, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, page 213:
      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.
    • 1994, Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Abacus 2010, p. 32:
      Without a word, he took my foreskin, pulled it forward, and then, in a single motion, brought down his assegai.
  2. The tree species Curtisia dentata, the wood of which is traditionally used to make assegais.



assegai (third-person singular simple present assegais, present participle assegaiing, simple past and past participle assegaied)

  1. To spear with an assegai.

See also[edit]