Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Ibrahiim al Balooshi 9th September 2017 12:08 PM

West Africa; Ivory carving expertise.
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As an example of superb carving skill I point to a salt cellar pictured below with the provenance from Reference A above as;

Quote" This saltcellar is both an extraordinary example of skilled workmanship and an artifact that epitomizes a singularly important convergence of cultures. In the second half of the fifteenth century, Portuguese explorers and traders were impressed by the considerable talent of ivory carvers along the coast of West Africa. As a result, they were inspired to commission works of this kind for their patrons, which ingeniously combine both European and African aesthetics and forms. During this period, salt and pepper were costly commodities and elaborate receptacles were appropriate for their storage in princely homes.

This work contains imagery relating to indigenous Sapi belief systems. The four snakes, associated with mystical wealth, appear to confront four growling dogs. According to regional traditions, dogs are considered spiritually astute animals able to see spirits and ghosts that are invisible to humans. This depiction of the dogs, with teeth bared, hair bristling, and ears laid back, may relate to that ability. However, the level of animation in this scene could also derive from chivalric hunting scenes in European woodcuts, which were furnished to local African artists by their European patrons."Unquote.

I show another salt cellar base of similar provenance and add that Ivory carvings whether animal or other figures were the domain of in country artisans of which in the region there were about 40 workshops... and that clearly the expertise was to hand rather than sending off to the Indian Ocean regions to have hilts made...gifted or otherwise as has been tentatively suggested ...

I conclude that in the case of big cats and it seems clear that their were two;... Leopard and Lion ...which by nature needed to be the West African form not Sri Lankan; The style was local... Big cats lived there in the wild and when weapons were adorned; hilted or on the blades they had to be of the proper form. With such excellent craftsmen to hand locally it follows that they would be commissioned to carve the Ivory hilts for the Kings. :shrug:

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Jim McDougall 11th September 2017 12:09 AM

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Remarkable similarity in these two swords in the blade root configuration and the pronounced mid rib at that segment of the blade.
While the blade tip is somewhat different, it is still the flared falchion type.

Picture 2:
The 'Benin' sword from Daehnhardt described as 15th-16th c. and with zoomorphic presumed a lion with Sinhalese character and equilateral cross device at blade near tip.

Picture 1:
The other example * with similar profile heavy falchion blade with gold lion device in place of cross, and hilt of character of dual rondel type in brass seen in other West African contexts (i.e. Mende).
This probably from King Glele (1858-1898).

* reference or source not cited

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 11th September 2017 10:50 AM

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Salaams Jim, Well noted on the blade rib...Post 6 has a similar blade . Here are bronze Leopards ...casting was another great skill..and another blade picture; :shrug:

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 11th September 2017 11:22 AM

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More Examples of Benin and close by regional swords...

colin henshaw 11th September 2017 01:11 PM

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Here is one of the swords after cleaning...

fernando 11th September 2017 01:54 PM

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Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Picture 2:
The 'Benin' sword from Daehnhardt described as 15th-16th c. and with zoomorphic presumed a lion with Sinhalese character and equilateral cross device at blade near tip...

Dear Jim,
Once you find it sine qua non the uploading of the already viral Benin or, should we say, Daehnhardt's sword, let me try and apply a couple (vital) touch ups.
Firstly, the image has indeed been scanned from Daehnhartd's book and (at the time) his collection; however the translation of the description is mine. With three years of age, and potentially passive of more accurate scholar wording and definitelly not bearing the book author agreement, i would decline its interpretation beyond that of an uncompromised context, as not being a test to what it is currently been through, an evident battle horse, so to say.
I have already reviewed and edited the text translation in my original post, hoping some improvement has been achieved, particularly:The cross is in brass and embedded on the blade, and not a perforation work, contrary to what i, for one, thought.
Then we have a case of gender; influence (influencia) is feminine, as brought (trazida) is equally feminine. Therefore it is not the grip (punho)masculine that would have been brought from Cingalese armoury but only its (construction) influence.
I would also add that any thoughts that the zoomorphic figure in the pommel, when being a lion, has to be of African nature, one may notice that such beast 'Panthera leo sinhaleyus' is a sign of bravery for the Sinhalese and eventually chosen to be the main symbol of their flag.
Concerning the past existence of the (aledgely) christian cross in pharaonic tombs, i would say Daehnhardt is no fool, as there is no smoke without fire.
So far one spot detected with both this and the Ankh cross is in a graphiti in the necropolis of el Bagawat, a funeral site used by early Egiptians and later by Coptas. I am ware these are not Pharaonic tombs but, here between us, this is the side towards which i sleep better :cool: .


Jim McDougall 13th September 2017 03:49 AM

Hi Fernando,
Thank you for your added attention to the dilemma of the 'Benin' sword, which I know some may feel a bit overplayed. However, as I had noted, it stands as a curious anomaly in the scheme of variations of these West African swords, and this one reflecting Sinhalese influence.

I think it is important to realize that our efforts to discover more on the proper classification, age and provenance of this interesting example are purely speculative, as are our evaluations of its elements. It is of course the same with those of Mr. Daehnhardt, who is of course no fool in his estimations, much as we are not. We all just do the best we can with what evidence we have, at least until new material or perspective is found.

My comparison of these two swords, the 'Benin' which was noted from 15th-16th c. and the example from 19th c. and presumably from the King Glele period as the brass lion was a leitmotif of his rule....was to note the remarkable similarity in the blade character of them.

Also that as pointed out, in the Benin example the cross is applied in brass (also seen on the axe pictured) just as the lion on the Glele sword of 19th c.

Could this have been a heirloom blade or regalia piece refitted with a 'lion' type hilt in the 19th c. with its form recalling 'influence' of Sinhalese type hilts and surely Indian or other Asian zoomorphic styles probably at least known in the colonial activity of those times? Art is what it is, interpretive, and it is hard to use such character to assign classification reliably when influences are so thoroughly diffused between different spheres.

The cross as a device on blades clearly may have derived from any number of sources which came from Christian contact despite its well established symbolism in tribal or folk religions not only in West Africa, but across the Sahara. The equilateral cross and variations are well known in tribal contexts typically as representing the four cardinal directions.
The ankh and its variants are of course known more to the east, and the Christian examples (crux ansata) of Coptic character are an interesting suggestion, but it seems a bit distant for consideration.
The mention of the 'cross' in Pharaonic tombs is of course not relevant except as an interesting note or curiosity.

fernando 14th September 2017 04:21 PM

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Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... The ankh and its variants are of course known more to the east, and the Christian examples (crux ansata) of Coptic character are an interesting suggestion, but it seems a bit distant for consideration.
The mention of the 'cross' in Pharaonic tombs is of course not relevant except as an interesting note or curiosity.

You are quite right, Jim.
I was more on the context that this is a small world and the deeper you research, the broader areas things have reached. After all, isn't it true that, the equilateral (Greek) cross is not a Christian invention, having popped up in the most varied spots of the Globe, from primitive Central America to wherever you name, with either religious or pagan significations ? Well, the ankh cross, if one follows its immediate path, was indeed a Pharaonic Egipt invention, adopted by Christian Coptas in Alexandria, having found its way to Abissinia and, so it seems, reached the distant Far East.
In a most interesting picture seen in one of Daehnhardts books, that dedicated to Vasco da Gama trip, we can appreciate an image of Prester John in a position which, with his aura and body, symbolizes the Key of Life (ANKH).
Also interesting is the Abyssinian silver adorned shield with the Templar crosses, something Portuguese navigators were not expecting to see when they sailed up the Indic Ocean and enteed the Red Sea.


Jim McDougall 14th September 2017 08:57 PM

Fernando, thank you as always for your informative and well noted responses, which are constantly intriguing and well supported and present thought provoking perspectives.
Actually we are not really digressing from the subject matter and talking points of the discussion as examples of compared swords to those in the OP often had 'crosses' which were a salient factor considered in their character as far as decoration.

The mention of the ankh was brought up in the Daehnhardt reference, but it seems in a broader sense as the reference was to use of the 'cross' in Pharaonic Egypt, suggesting possible association or influence to use in these rather distant contexts. The equilateral cross is quite distinct in its simplicity so its origins and use most certainly did develop quite convergently in many cultures and civilizations well into prehistory.

Like a number of simple ideographs and pictographs which evolved through prehistoric times, these of course had varied interpretation in accord with local beliefs and tradition while their simple forms were alike.

The equilateral cross was as noted not a Christian invention, but very much present as noted long before those times. It was adopted in numerous forms and interpretations in that Faith and others with these added accordingly in various representations.

As we are travelling through many states here and seeing significant American Indian historical areas, I would note that the equilateral cross is seen in various tribal symbolism. While there is a large degree of similarity in its interpretation it is referred to as a 'medicine' symbol (power) and usually the cardinal directions signifying 'universality' or ecumenical notion.

These occurrences of course have nothing to do with Christianity, early explorers, the Greeks, Crusades, or Egyptian ankhs. They exist on petroglyphs which are seen from Montana in to the desert southwest and probably further.

The occurrence of the cross pattee (commonly referred to as the Maltese cross) on the Abyssinian shield is not at all surprising, as the Abyssinians had considerable contact with Christianity (Coptic) long before the Portuguese arrived as you noted. These crosses evolved most likely in their form from variations from times of the crusades into these more commonly used type as on the shield, which appears to be of latter 19th c.

I guess we are indeed digressing in a sense, though I do think it I helpful looking into the devices and elements we often consider in classifying and identifying arms examples as seen here. It sometimes entails almost a forensic examination to qualify the admissibility of these features, but it presents fascinating results to those of us who wish to pursue these in more detail.

I know that many in our fields do not chose to pursue these factors in such detail, but always hope that our discussions will be of benefit not just to those of us on these paths, but others in better enjoyment of the inherent value of their items.

I always very much appreciate the time and effort you spend in the responses and observations you add in these discussions as they integrate important perspective and evaluation of the material being discussed. The often key entries from the often hard to obtain resources as well as the much valued references from Mr. Daehnhardt are essential to these also.
With many thanks,

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