Definition of assegai in English:


(also assagai)

nounPlural assegais

  • 1A slender, iron-tipped, hardwood spear used chiefly by southern African peoples.

    • ‘There're a lot of interesting things to buy: tyre sandals, walking sticks, assegais, knobkerries, bead necklaces, Zulu pots and drums.’
    • ‘It had an effect just like the longbow at Agincourt - and the Gatling gun, which eventually defeated the Zulus with their assegais.’
    • ‘By the 1870s, mounted cavalry with muzzle-loaders, even breech-loaders, rather than foot soldiers with shields and assegais, were the spearhead of a number of surviving African armies.’
    • ‘A large cache of weapons, including assegais, pangas, and axes, was confiscated, most of which were concealed in nearby forests.’
    • ‘Their assailants were armed with knobkierries, assegais and machetes.’
    • ‘A police presence has been established to stabilise the area after 171 men were arrested and rifles, sidearms, ammunition, assegais and pangas seized.’
    • ‘They carried no javelins, only the largest assegai.’
    • ‘Traditional surgeons such as Ntsasa are invited to workshops to teach them how to sterilise assegais and prevent the spread of HIV-Aids or other diseases.’
    • ‘Ordinarily he would be pinned to a banyan tree with an assagai before he'd read sports pages.’
    • ‘Painted in pink, with black and white drawings of Zulu shields and assegais and cast-iron three-legged pots on the walls, the conference building can hold up to 500 people.’
    • ‘He was presented with a traditional shield, assegai and a framed picture of African heritage.’
    • ‘The irreplaceable steel-bladed assegai were saved for close-in work.’
    • ‘They can inherit anything from as little as an assegai to as much as a few beasts.’
    • ‘Inside the village, park visitors could divide their attention, and their spare change, between a fortune-telling ‘bone thrower’ and a neutered ‘warrior,’ harmlessly gyrating with his assegai and shield.’
    • ‘Police recovered five rifles, 18 sidearms, 84 bullets, and 700 assegais in follow-up house-to-house searches.’
  • 2A South African tree of the dogwood family, which yields hard timber.

    Curtisia dentata, family Cornaceae

    • ‘Other common trees of the forests read like nature's picnic basket: wild pear, wild peach, African holly, assegai wood, forest olive or ironwood, white stinkwood… the list goes on.’
    • ‘They surveyed the forest and studied the trees, identifying yellow wood, stinkwood, assegai wood, pear, alder and half a dozen other varieties.’

verbassegais, assegaing, assegaied

[with object]
  • Wound or kill with an assegai.

    ‘he was a very brave man but he was eventually assegaied’
    • ‘We retired well, but I shall never forget the Kaffirs getting in amongst us and assegaing our poor fellows.’
    • ‘I found there a man in a red coat badly assegaied in the arm, unable to move.’
    • ‘One determined Zulu even jumped over the barricade and assegaied a disoriented patient to death, though he himself was quickly picked off by a British rifleman.’
    • ‘I could of course make no answer to this, so he sent men who clubbed or assegaied four of the culprits, but two escaped.’
    • ‘Many of the soldiers indeed were assegaied before they could leave their tents, most were slaughtered at once, but a few managed to swim across the river.’


Early 17th century: from obsolete French azagaie or Portuguese azagaia, from Arabic az-zaġāyah, from az, al ‘the’ + Berber zaġāyah ‘spear’.