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Author Topic:   Etymology: kaskara and takouba terms
Jim McDougall
EEWRS Staff
posted 01-02-2001 20:02     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Can anyone please give the etymology/literal derivation of the terms 'kaskara' and 'takouba'? It seems the various elements of these swords are translated in glossary format, but I've never seen a reference to define whether these are terms specifically defining those forms of sword or reference to 'a sword' in general.

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Lee Jones
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posted 01-05-2001 06:26     Click Here to See the Profile for Lee Jones   Click Here to Email Lee Jones     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I gave takouba a try among the various volumes in the limited library I have and from these I gather that takouba is, in fact, a Tuareg word and pretty much means "sword, not otherwise specified". However, none of these sources actually answered your question.

Logically, it has to be that most cultures once had various words to express the nuances of variation among the swords they were exposed to, when swords were important. This diversity has been mostly lost as swords ceased to be "everyday" objects, just as how many Americans can recall the various terms for states of age and gender of cattle which would have been in common useage in 19th century America.

So, whether takouba is a generic term (= sword = schwert = épée) or was a specific term among the Tuareg for the particular tapering double-edged sword with the unique cross guard and pommel is probably not knowable unless someone documented it decades ago.

My suspicion is that most of the terms we use today for the diversity of ethnographic swords are actually generic terms in local languages once meaning sword, not otherwise specified but which have now, in international useage, become associated with a particular localized type.

But this is just speculation on my part.

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Jim McDougall
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posted 01-05-2001 11:31     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lee,
Beautifully said! Thank you so much for the response. I agree with your speculation on the application of these terms. I remember reading somewhere about the many terms in Arabic for sword(s) . In one instance, Robert Elgood (Arms & Armour of Arabia, p.12, #2.4) an illustration of what appears to be a nimcha with familiar drooping quillon arrangement is labeled a Moroccan saif. He notes that although these are frequently referred to as nimcha, the length of the sword is in direct contradiction of the meaning of the word (nimcha=short sword).

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ruel
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posted 01-05-2001 16:36     Click Here to See the Profile for ruel   Click Here to Email ruel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hey Lee, I like that alot -- the "NOS," so useful in medical documentation, would be very useful shorthand if ethnic weapon collectors used it.

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RASFranzen
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posted 01-17-2001 14:05     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi,
I just wonder, whether we do agree on terminology even before jumping into etymology.
I just got C. Spring´s book and according to him, the descriptions on the web site seem garbled, as he paints the " manding sword" as some kind of sabre, the Haussa and Fulbe seem to use Takouba while the Kaskara is eastern sudanic.
This would of course have an influence on terminology...
a puzzled
Soenke Franzen

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Lee Jones
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posted 01-17-2001 22:20     Click Here to See the Profile for Lee Jones   Click Here to Email Lee Jones     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A very good point. That article may well need an edit. Where I got the Hausa and Mandig designation relative to the kaskara was the Briggs monograph cited therein, which for the most part appears to have been meticulously researched and written.

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Jim McDougall
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posted 01-17-2001 23:33     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Soenke,
Thank you for responding to this! You bring up a very good point...the diffusion of these weapons with the nomadic character of the tribes using them does make it difficult to categorically assign certain types of sword to some of these groups.
In the references in most arms & armor literature, the takouba is generally associated with the Taureg confederation of tribes in the Sahara. Although the Hausa are often associated with these tribes, Briggs notes kaskaras of 'Hausa' form, suggesting diffusion of the kaskara broadsword considerably to the west,or movement of Hausa tribes accordingly the the east. Conversly, I am not aware of examples of takouba used to the east among Sudanic tribes.
The 'Manding' sabres are extremely interesting hybrids that reflect the widened scabbards of the eastern Sudan, a guardless hilt reminiscent of broadswords from as far east as Zanzibar, and the curved sabre blades of the French colonial forces.While the term 'Manding'applies to the tribal group typically associated with these swords, it is unclear what local term is actually used to describe them.
One of the most distinct features of the takouba as opposed to the kaskara is the block form crossguard that is characteristic, while the kaskara has an iron or brass crossguard with langet.Of course there are a number of differences besides that, but that element is the most obvious.
It is interesting how the takouba has remained distinctly the sword of the Tuaregs and apparantly relatively uninfluenced by the kaskara, which has reached across the Sudan,possibly as far west as Niger, across Central Sudan, Eastern Sudan and into Eritrea, Ethiopia and even Somalia.
The book by Spring is an outstanding reference, but does illustrate how little is really documented in detail on these swords.

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RASFranzen
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posted 01-18-2001 13:20     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Jim and Lee,
Spring´s book has this colour pic of Fulbe/Bororo, who are obviously armed with Tuareg weapons.
I wonder, whether Takouba is Western and Kaskara Eastern.Of course the Haj would have probably helped dispersing sword types but then conservatism of the - sword owning - elites would probably have led people to re-hilt, maybe even reshape swords...
best wishes
Soenke

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Jim McDougall
EEWRS Staff
posted 01-18-2001 21:17     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Soenke,
Your reference to "Fulbe/Bororo"..I'm having a bit of trouble locating these references in my copy of Spring's book (1993). The closest I can find are Fulani and Bornu.
Possibly you have a revised edition?
Ideally, your idea of takouba-west, kaskara-east, works..and the diffusion of swords typically followed the intricate web of caravan routes across Northern Africa.
Sword blades have long been a trade commodity and it is typical for them to be hilted locally with favored hilt forms.The movement of nomadic tribes in addition to established caravan routes certainly expanded the diffusion of swords, further compounding the difficulty in identifying type to tribe. Add to this the continual tribal raiding which often resulted in the acquisition of complete swords, further displacing types as they were dispersed.
Getting back to the original topic, the terms for these swords, Lee's speculation is certainly the most plausible. It is interesting that the terms for the various elements of the swords have been translated showing associations to human anatomy in a number of instances, but the terms for the swords themselves seem to have escaped inclusion in known glossaries.

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RASFranzen
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posted 01-19-2001 03:24     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
HI Jim,
just to not look lihe an even shoddier student of swords than I am:

My quote is from the 1993 hardbound British Museum edition of "African Arms and Armour"
colour plates after page 32 plate 7.

The caption is:
Men of the Bororo ( Fulani) of Northern Nigeria and Southern Niger performing the yake dance at which alliances between various groups are reinforced.
Tuareg style swords, takouba, and spears, allarh, are carried by the dancers.

( it´s the pic with those guys with the interesting headdresses, who look a bit like Michael Jackson ;-> )

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Jim McDougall
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posted 01-19-2001 19:38     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Soenke,
oops! Guess I should have tried to look it up when I was awake!! Yup, there they are OK.
Apparantly the Fulani (Fulbe, Bororo) are nomadic and speak a Nigritic language, being found from the West African Atlantic coast to Cameroon. Countries included in their domain include Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, Nigeria and SW Chad. As you point out this tribal people also carry the takouba. As the term is essentially Tuareg, it would be interesting to find out what term is used for these swords by the Fulani,or if it is the same.

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RASFranzen
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posted 01-20-2001 06:35     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Jim,
actually I do believe I have made a mistake by calling the Fulani "Fulbe". I darkly seem to remember that they are quite different but unfortunately I have not got that part of my ethnographic collection around.

Funnily the Fulani seem to have accepted most Tuareg things besides the dress, as I can also discern typically Tuareg crosses in that picture.

Maybe the martial renown of the Tuareg has led towards dispersion of their - martial - equipment with the puzzling result that those Bororo/Fulani run around with the equipment of Noble Tuareg.

Back to Etymology:
Takouba seems to be a Tuareg word - but what abnout Kaskara?

Hi Lee,
I would really appreciate if you found the time to adap the web site as I think, that to many ( like me) it will be the first source of info about these swords and to some maybe the only one. Thus I think you have some responsibility towards the absolute beginners ;->

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Jim McDougall
EEWRS Staff
posted 01-21-2001 00:41     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In the references I found on Fulani, the term Fulbe was parenthesised, suggesting a variation of the name. Anthropological semantics can really get confusing.
I believe the term kaskara is likely to be Arabic, but have yet to have that confirmed by Arabic speakers. Takouba is of course a Tuareg word, but as noted, seems to escape glossaries, and it is not certain which of the dialects of Tamaheq it is from.It seems that this language is a form of Senhadjan Berber, according to Briggs ("Tribes of the Sahara", 1960, p.125)..so that widens the scope even more.

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RASFranzen
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posted 01-21-2001 07:35     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Jim,
I looked up the Fulani in the Britannica and it seems they overran the Hausa during a Jyhad. Thus the Hause will likely have accepted Fulani and thereby Fulani/Fulbe arms and equipment.
So most likely the Kaskara is Eastern and the Takouba is Western.
Of course that leaves the flared sheath that (Western) Manding-swords have in common with the Kaskara as a conundrum.
Also the word Kaskara seems unexplained to me.

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RASFranzen
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posted 01-21-2001 07:39     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Correction:

...and thereby Tuareg Arms

sorry

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Lee Jones
EEWRS Staff
posted 05-02-2001 06:47     Click Here to See the Profile for Lee Jones   Click Here to Email Lee Jones     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote


(currently being auctioned, closing May 6)

Sitting in the small but glorious souk of Amadou Illo Dizi in Agadez, Niger earlier this year, I probed for more takouba terms, with which Dizi, a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his lips, kindly obliged, and I repeatedly handed back to him the scrap of paper on which he documented the next disclosure.

One of the lines of questioning I pursued involved the term takouba, and seeing the sword above in an online auction brought this back to mind.

After Dizi had explained to me how takoubas are subclassified by the fuller configuration, with a second word following that of takouba, I asked for the name for a curved, single edged sword, which, I learned, did not include the term takouba but which had its own root name, which is alguinjar. Whether or not the mounts were in Tuareg style did not appear to matter. Remembering JSK's Mole and Son British backsword blade in typical Tuareg mounts, I then inquired about that and learned that it too, was called a alguinjar.

So, it appears that takouba is not a generic term for sword, but a term specifically applied to a straight double edged sword. Whether such a blade in other mounts would qualify, I did not learn. Blades of other configurations, in Tuareg mounts or not, are termed alguinjars. I will continue with these enquiries...

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Jim McDougall
EEWRS Staff
posted 05-03-2001 01:01     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lee,
Thank you so much for posting this extremely interesting hybrid! and for sharing the information on the term for curved sabres. In Spring, p.40, the illustration of the curved Manding sabres does not give a name for them. Would the term 'alguinjar' be correct for these guardless sabres also? This example seems to be a Tuareg version of one of these...the Manding sabres interestingly have the scabbards with widened tip seen on kaskaras.
I've yet to discover the origin or etymology of the term kaskara, which seems to elude local use for these swords, simply called saif by the locals.

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Lee Jones
EEWRS Staff
posted 05-03-2001 05:39     Click Here to See the Profile for Lee Jones   Click Here to Email Lee Jones     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I failed to properly credit JSK in my previous post for kindly furnishing the photo of the saber blade in Tuareg mounts, and would like to belatedly acknowledge this contribution.

Jim, my perception is that alguinjar is a Tuareg and or Toubou word for swords other than those of the classic straight double edged takouba type, perhaps used in the same sense that the Indians used firangi or "foreigner" for swords with imported blades. So, though a Tuareg might call a Manding saber an alguinjar, I sort of doubt that would be the local Manding term, though I really don't know. Remember also, at this point I have gotten this information from a single verbal source - an especially intelligent and articulate one - but, nonetheless a single source.

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VANDOO
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posted 05-04-2001 00:50     Click Here to See the Profile for VANDOO   Click Here to Email VANDOO     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have been following your discussion with interest and I have a question. I have a old tureg sword of the type you are discussing with the typical blade. This one has lost the leather covering the crossgaurd. The crossgaurd on one side is beautifully if primitivly engraved on one side. Is this common and usually done but covered with leather so nobody can see. If so I wonder what the reasoning and purpose is.

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Lee Jones
EEWRS Staff
posted 05-04-2001 07:15     Click Here to See the Profile for Lee Jones   Click Here to Email Lee Jones     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I guess my first question will be "Is the crossguard made of brass?" If it is, then it was never intended to be covered with leather. It is typical for takouba to have a "display" face and a much plainer "inside face":



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VANDOO
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posted 05-05-2001 00:09     Click Here to See the Profile for VANDOO   Click Here to Email VANDOO     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the reply. the metal the gaurd is made is steel about the thickness of a tin can.The leather that covered it apears to have been cut with a razor blade and removed. The design in the metal is very well done, and the blade would be a servicable weapon, It shows genuine age and use but is not of the quality of the two swords shown in this column.I have two others of better quality but the gaurds are completly covered in leather, thats why I was curious. Thanks again.

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RASFranzen
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posted 08-17-2001 15:06     Click Here to See the Profile for RASFranzen     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This might be bit late, but I just read the book of the german explorer Gerhard Rohlfs, one of the first Europeans in that area.

I found interesting that he thought most of the swords of the lake Chad area were of Solingen make and that the Fulani then - just as many Targi today - claimed to be white.

Takouba the sword of white men?

best wishes
Soenke Franzen

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Jim McDougall
EEWRS Staff
posted 08-17-2001 23:15     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Soenke,
Negative! Never too late! Thank you for still keeping up with this....I'm staying with it too. It would be interesting to know more about what the narratives say about the swords in use in certain areas..as you note the Lake Chad area seemed to favor Solingen blades.
Still no luck finding out about the takouba term..apparantly the Fulani know the swords, but not that word.

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tom hyle
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posted 12-27-2003 20:15     Click Here to See the Profile for tom hyle   Click Here to Email tom hyle     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Vandoo, I might suggest that the hidden design on the guard was either A/on a piece of iron recycled to this use, or B/of magical meaning, not dis-similarly to my suspicion about a never-(before)-etched Algerian knife I have that turns out to be ladder-pattern folded steel, and perhaps relating to the Tuareg prohibition against touching iron.

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tom hyle
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posted 12-27-2003 22:48     Click Here to See the Profile for tom hyle   Click Here to Email tom hyle     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
BTW, Fulani do not seem to share this prohibition; I have at least twice seen photos of Fulani with long-necked/long-tailed javelins, and touching the iron.

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Jim McDougall
EEWRS Staff
posted 12-28-2003 14:50     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim McDougall   Click Here to Email Jim McDougall     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Whoa! This is like the 'Mikey' thread that has now surpassed all Guinness records for survival....just goes to show responses are much appreciated no matter how much time goes by. Besides a nice 'flash from the past' it is interesting to note I still have not been able to locate any confirmation of the term 'kaskara', nor 'takouba' regarding etymology.
Tom, you have brought up also a fascinating topic that is seldom discussed, the superstitions regarding metals, blacksmiths etc. in North Africa. It seems the idea was once presented about the hilts being covered with leather to prevent contact with iron.
In the Sudan, it has been suggested that the iron signifies death, while brass represents life. This concept was suggested while researching a brass crossguard on a kaskara, which seemed atypical from the usual iron ones.

The leather cover on the Tuareg swords bring to mind the leather covered hilts and guards of many military regulation swords which were in use in desert regions, onstensably to limit reflection and to make it more bearable in holding the hot weapon during daytime use.

Thanks for reviving this thread!

Best regards, Jim

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