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colin henshaw 12th August 2017 05:31 PM

Two West African swords/cutlasses for I.D.
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These two West African swords (need cleaning) are recent acquisitions. I havn't seen this pattern before, they seem to have a combination of styles.

Can anyone help to shed more light on them. The forested/coastal region of West Africa is very interesting but somewhat under studied...

Thanks in advance.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 12th August 2017 06:27 PM

Originally Posted by colin henshaw
These two West African swords (need cleaning) are recent acquisitions. I havn't seen this pattern before, they seem to have a combination of styles.

Can anyone help to shed more light on them. The forested/coastal region of West Africa is very interesting but somewhat under studied...

Thanks in advance.

2 African swords, these are the 'blade form' of the usually ceremonial swords called 'hwi' from Dahomey (now Benin) in west Africa coast .
The hilts are more known as a Sierra Leone form which usually had larger broadsword blades (some of kaskara form). Basically these are slave coast swords of mid 19th c. to latter.

colin henshaw 15th August 2017 03:06 PM

From what I can find, I think Ibrahiim is on the right lines ... most likely Fon (Dahomey) swords. However the Mende type hilts and "sandwich" style of blade attachment are a bit of a puzzle, as the Mende are about a thousand miles away from the Fon along the coast ??

Sajen 15th August 2017 04:28 PM

Hi Colin,

when you have "panga na visu", there is on page 40 a Fon sword, very similar from handle and blade form (but here with cut outs) but also with the small "hook" at end of the spine, described as Fon sword called "gubasa".


Jim McDougall 15th August 2017 05:41 PM

I think that in looking at these two 'cutlasses' which are distinctly with the curved 'hook' type tip blades with Dahomean character, and notably incongruent 'Mende' style hilts, we consider the dramatic diffusion knwn in these regions.
The Mende (of Sierra Leone) as well as the well known slave coast 'capital' of Ouidah (in Dahomey, now Benin) were among the littoral of West Africa which comprised this thousand miles of 'slave coast'. This region was still quite active in the mid 1900s, so movement of influences seem reasonable.

It is interesting that the 'sandwich' type element of the blades is a well known element often seen on the blades of West African takouba in Saharan regions, and it has been noted that the Mende hilt style has been known to be mounted with kaskara type blades.

This reflects diffusion of even more dramatic distances, which are well established in trade route networking over considerable periods. Then factor in tribal diffusion, warfare, and even religious influences transmitting these characteristics and feasibility is seen.

These curious blade shapes are indeed representative of Fon type blades of Dahomey, and these are often known as gubasa, but in nearby Ghana similar swords are 'ada', and the Fon were in other contiguous regions as well.

What is most interesting is that these blades are solid, and seemingly of functional character rather than the ceremonially decorated examples of these swords usually well embellished with pierced cutouts and extraneous features atop the blade back etc.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 15th August 2017 06:29 PM

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I was looking at the Penn museum who write at

Quote" See von Luschan, Altertumer von Benin, p. 440, figs. 697a and c, and drawings at end of text volume, E 696 a and c. The sword is of brass, the blade completely covered with ornament, the spaces between the designs being thickly pitted. The hilt is of wood partly covered with thin plates of brass or bronze and with copper (?) wire.''Unquote.

See weapon examples below with Penn Museum weapon in black and white;

Jim McDougall 16th August 2017 12:08 AM

Perfect example Ibrahiim!!
These with that distinct cross pierced in the blade seem most prolific and if I understand correctly, it is one of the varied symbols which may be connected to the Vodun religion (later Voodoo in Louisiana and Caribbean) of the Fon and Yoruba people among others. As in many ethnographic circumstances this cross symbolizes the four cardinal directions and similar meanings.
Thank you for that cite as really helps to have these additional references to add to the material being reviewed.

colin henshaw 20th August 2017 12:44 PM

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Thanks to those who have input on these swords so far.

Thinking about them a bit more, I suppose they could have just as well been used by the Mende with influences from Dahomey weapons, as much as the reverse..

On the other hand .. the swords are heavy and robust with sharpened edges. Without being melodramatic, they swing well in the hand particularly with the extra weight towards the blade tip, in fact they seem just right for decapitation purposes ! Seemingly this was regularly done to captives (and criminals) by victorious Dahomey warriors.

Here are some images from the internet, as well as an image of the hilt of a Mende sword I posted a while back, for reference.

If anyone else has more to add about these swords, please do so.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 26th August 2017 04:49 PM

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Whilst dabbling in African weapons I found this....see :shrug:

Jim McDougall 27th August 2017 06:56 PM

Great examples Ibrahiim!
One thing I have been wondering,
That distinct four armed cross pierced into the blade near distal end on many of these.....they seem to correspond to the cross piercing on the Portuguese 15th century+ 'navigator (or 'black') swords of crab claw type in that the qullon discs of these often have such crosses.

Could the Yoruba possibly have incorporated this symbol into their symbolic devices in their religion? The symbol is not necessarily consistant but seems to often occur on Yoruba ceremonial type weapons from areas from Togo, through Benin into Nigeria in variation.

Martin Lubojacky 27th August 2017 07:55 PM

Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Whilst dabbling in African weapons I found this....see :shrug:

Maybe the Picture was taken by pinterest from this forum ? I bought these three swords in Nigeria - the top one in Lagos. This is very old one, heavy steel blade and I would say fighting weapon (slashing). The handle is made of wood with old iron mountings. The two made of brass are of Yoruba origin, from Ibadan

Martin Lubojacky 27th August 2017 08:09 PM

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 28th August 2017 10:40 AM

Originally Posted by Martin Lubojacky
Maybe the Picture was taken by pinterest from this forum ? I bought these three swords in Nigeria - the top one in Lagos. This is very old one, heavy steel blade and I would say fighting weapon (slashing). The handle is made of wood with old iron mountings. The two made of brass are of Yoruba origin, from Ibadan


Salaams Martin Lubojacky ~ Indeed it seems they are the same picture and as is the Pinterest way they have simply been logged by an algorithm device. Your post directs readers to reference A and whet an excellent reference it is! I should at least try to add a few more pictures if I can find any... Yours seem to be the best .

Wikepedia adds The Ida is a kind of sword used by the Yoruba people of West Africa. It is a long sword with a narrow to wide blade and sheathe. The sword is sharp, and cuts on contact but typically begins to dull if not sharpened regularly. It can be single-edged or double-edged. These blades are typically heavier by the tip of the blade.

During wars, pepper and poison are added to it to paralyze anyone who is cut by the sword. It can be wielded in any way (either one-handed or two-handed). The Yoruba people use this sword for hunting, war and other uses. The blade of the sword is in an elongated leaf-shaped form. It is designed for cutting and hacking.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 28th August 2017 11:32 AM

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In selecting this line up below there are some I have various questions about which I think I can find answers in due course thus your comments are welcomed.

My immediate reaction is that west African weapons must be related inter tribally as borne out by the similarities in these golock styles...The tendency to call them ceremonial is always there but my thought is that ceremonial may extend at least to executions... which were a sort of ceremonial :) Indeed if they were only ceremonial why would they poison the blades..Thus I suggest these also were used in battle.

The depiction of a lion is interesting as being the big cat favoured by the tribal kings and not as once suggested as some sort of spin back from the Portuguese influence in the Indian Ocean and copied or taken from Kastane in Ceylon. :) The sword from at #52 is shown below as fig 11 and is clearly a Lion Head but the accompanying literature assumes an Indian Ocean influence which of course it is CERTAINLY not.
In that case it is on a hilt and below it appears on hilts and on the blade in cut out form. It is suggested that in the case of West African designs this is a home grown device.

In looking at the cross geometry + cut into the blade; I include the Black Crab quillons device favoured by the Portuguese shown below but am unable to say if this is co-incidental or copied in regard to the tribal blade. Religion seems a far off indicator and knowing the several uses of the cross format I tend to rule that out; although black magic "as a religion" may rule this straight back in !!

So some artwork~

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 28th August 2017 12:33 PM

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The Cross.


This may be linked to the concept in Voodoo of a crossroads ...and as such was exported to Haiti and New Orleans etc by the advent of the slave trade. As a style of worship best described by the reference as "Jesus in the Morning Voodoo in the Evening" perhaps there is no better example of two religions living side by side, thus, it is not surprising to see crosses in tribal artifacts.

On the other hand the cross is not unusual in other African cultures as seen by Tuareg jewelry and crosses therein linked to astrology.

The cross in weaving and hand knotted rugs off the silk road refers or means welcome ...As a candle light insignia often seen on Yurt Rug Door Hangings called Ketchli or Yatchlu.

Below illustrated cross concepts on Oriental Rugs and Tuareg Jewelry~

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 28th August 2017 12:44 PM

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Of the Asante type shown below the British Museum says Quote"~...

A state sword (afena) with slightly curved cast iron blade, pierced along the lower cutting edge with two arrow-shaped voids and an equal-arm cross motif. These voids are surrounded by punched line and dot patterns. Near the hilt there are two incised grooves filled with a herringbone pattern and five circular punch marks. The wooden hilt is bar-bell-shaped and has distinctive rounded pommels either end of the grip. The hilt is decorated with a series of carved geometric designs which were originally covered with gold leaf secured by small gold-covered (?) staples but only a small amount remains in place.

Length: 34 centimetres
Width: 4.5 centimetres

Fair, extensive loss of gold leaf on carved hilt, with remianing traces in a fragile condition.

Curator's comments
It is not known when swords were introduced into area now known as Ghana but early examples probably derive from Islamic weapons that were passed down the trans-Saharan trade routes. The use of swords in Akan society was recorded by the end of the sixteenth century and they have continued to play a significant role in ritual and ceremonial contexts ever since. There are several distinct types of state swords normally found in the regalia of an important leader or paramount chief. By far the most important of the ceremonial swords are the keteanofena (literally; edge of the sleeping mat swords) which are revered and are passed from one ruler to his successor as a major portion of state regalia. This group is composed of two major sub-divisions the akrafena and the bosomfena. Akrafena, or ‘swords of the soul’ are used, as their name suggests, in fairly restricted, often private rituals for the purification of the ruler’s soul and the purification of the blackened state stools while swords in the second division the bosomfena play a more varied and public role.

These two groups of swords embody and represent two distinct spiritual elements; those on the Asantehene’s right (akrafena) represent his soul or life-force (kra), those on the left (bosomfena), his ego, spirit or personality (sunsum) that was inherited from his father. Elders also swear allegiance to their ruler on these swords and they may be carried as badges of office for a ruler’s messengers.

This small sword is the same shape as the larger state swords which suggests that it functioned in a similar way." Unquote.

Martin Lubojacky 28th August 2017 06:33 PM

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Hello Ibrahiim,
Thank you for such backround research.... You are right that the weapons of similar shapes were also used in warfare. As far as warfare is concerned, I think there were two main types used in the Guinea Gulf area (Dahomey Kingdom, Benin Kingdom in current Nigeria): 1.streight short swords (similar e.g. to Fang swords) and 2. machete style, often with bulbous point - which you can see on the picture.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 28th August 2017 08:19 PM

Originally Posted by Martin Lubojacky
Hello Ibrahiim,
Thank you for such backround research.... You are right that the weapons of similar shapes were also used in warfare. As far as warfare is concerned, I think there were two main types used in the Guinea Gulf area (Dahomey Kingdom, Benin Kingdom in current Nigeria): 1.streight short swords (similar e.g. to Fang swords) and 2. machete style, often with bulbous point - which you can see on the picture.

Salaams Martin Lubojacky, Excellent artwork and thank you.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 29th August 2017 06:38 PM

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THE CROSS PART 2 The reference above is a delightful Forum Library thread with excellent artwork.

SEE which tables a few aspects of The African Cross. :shrug: In this document a number of crosses are viewed including the Ethiopian Cross and the Ankth although in the latter model the cross is comprised of a dominant handle not seen in West African swords as such. The cross we are looking for is a simple + sign. Nkisi Sarabanda provides us with a circle and crosses which correspond in many ways with the Voodoo Cross or gateway below and is shown for comparison... This is a Congo tribal geometry which I believe is the key to the cross on the broad Machete we are looking at here.

“Nkisi Sarabanda, symbolizing the signature of the spirit, is a representation of a bakongo cosmogram. This symbol portrays how the Congo-angolan people viewed the interaction between the spiritual and material world, or in other words between the living and the dead; the Congo-angolan people believe that these worlds are inherently intertwined. An Nkisi is a spiritual object used for worship purposes, and have been found in places where enslaved Africans have lived… shows some interesting links between Voodoo and the Cross illustrated below and appears to represent a gateway or cross roads. This sign was transmitted to Haiti and New Orleans etc via the slave trade from West Africa... probably from slave centres and more than likely linked to the circle and crosses of the Nkisi Sarabanda..

There is a device on Portuguese Black Crab (shown below) swords manufactured in that region but with a cross incorporated in each Quillon and said to have been sharpened for close quarter work. Did this design flow from or to the Portuguese weapon or is it simply a coincidence?

There seems to be no logical reason why African tribal swords would have a Christian Cross cut in the end of a blade..and the coincidental concept may be relevant but further research is needed. My suggestion backed by the above is that this is a home grown device locked into the Voodoo and like practice of regional tribes from ancient times.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 30th August 2017 03:41 PM



A. African Art by Frank Willet page 65 cave drawings lower Congo and page 109 Egypt in Africa. ( a description of the old fashioned Myth)

See above post my deliberate inclusion of the Black Crab sword and its Cross decorated Quillons and compare it with the cross design in the broad leaf shaped blades of West African tribal swords herein.

The cross format has to be looked at in more detail and although there are those who from the old fashioned school who think everything is somehow related to The Egyptian Era that arguement will be addressed in a moment.

For now the link between religious constructs of the Portuguese can be examined in viewing the cave drawings described in Reference A

which says Quote. "at Mbafu Cave in the Lower Congo an area where Portuguese influence was very strong in the late 15th C...and where the crucifix has become a power symbol used by tribal chiefs when they sit in judgement. The crude cave wall drawings show various cross insignia but interestingly most outstanding is a group of figures; one with a pectoral cross standing on a platform; with a Latin Cross.

These motifs seem to commemorate the consecration of Don Henrique, son of King Alphonso the first of the BaKongo as the first Congolese Bishop in 1518." Unquote.

With this in mind and viewing the likeness to the cross on tribal blades I agree that these are linked in some way and perhaps in the power imbued in a tribal chief by the two styles of religion thus the same cross design in both ; Tribal and Christian.

Turning to Egypt The author goes into simple but compelling detail in a short chapter which demolishes again the old theory that was dominant in the 19thC about Egypt and it being the source of everything!

Chronology in this regard is vital. To infer direct connections without the intervening links between Egyptian objects and others made 2, 3 or 4 millennium later in Africa is dangerous. For example it has been claimed that the akua ba doll of Ashanti is derived from the Ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, which does have its roots in the same region to 16th C terracotta dolls but nothing whatsoever to do with the Egyptian Ankh in either case.

Parallel development in unrelated tribal systems seems to be the only link~ in other words a basket weave from Ancient New Zealand peoples has nothing to do with Eskimo baskets in Northern Canada.

Unfortunately traces of such old fashioned and outdated influence and belief still exist in certain writers and we must be on our guard to point this out where it is found to have crept back in....

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 30th August 2017 04:26 PM


Ibrahiim al Balooshi 1st September 2017 07:56 PM

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I noted an extraordinary sword example from this region with a standard hilt but zoo omorhic and geometric blade including a Cross already dealt with. The snake is particularly interesting. :shrug:

Wikepedia notes Quote" In Africa the chief centre of serpent worship was Dahomey, but the cult of the python seems to have been of exotic origin, dating back to the first quarter of the 17th century. By the conquest of Whydah the Dahomeyans were brought in contact with a people of serpent worshippers, and ended by adopting from them the beliefs which they at first despised.

At Whydah, the chief centre, there is a serpent temple, tenanted by some fifty snakes. Every python of the danh-gbi kind must be treated with respect, and death is the penalty for killing one, even by accident. Danh-gbi has numerous wives, who until 1857 took part in a public procession from which the profane crowd was excluded; a python was carried round the town in a hammock, perhaps as a ceremony for the expulsion of evils.

The rainbow-god of the Ashanti was also conceived to have the form of a snake. His messenger was said to be a small variety of boa, but only certain individuals, not the whole species, were sacred.

In many parts of Africa the serpent is looked upon as the incarnation of deceased relatives. Among the Amazulu, as among the Betsileo of Madagascar, certain species are assigned as the abode of certain classes. The Maasai, on the other hand, regard each species as the habitat of a particular family of the tribe."Unquote.

Tortoise Note the Tortoise between the hilt and the snake. See for some of the important West African Myths and stories concerning the Tortoise which was revered as being the cleverest animal and a legendary force ..

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 2nd September 2017 03:49 PM

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It may be useful here to have a basic description of Dahomey thus ~

Wikepedia Quote'' The History of the Kingdom of Dahomey spans 300 years from around 1600 until 1904 with the rise of the Kingdom of Dahomey as a major power on the Atlantic coast of modern-day Benin until French conquest. The kingdom became a major regional power in the 1720s when it conquered the coastal kingdoms of Allada and Whydah. With control over these key coastal cities, Dahomey became a major center in the Atlantic Slave Trade until 1852 when the British imposed a naval blockade to stop the trade. War with the French began in 1892 and the French took over the Kingdom of Dahomey in 1894. The throne was vacated by the French in 1900, but the royal families and key administrative positions of the administration continued to have a large impact in the politics of the French administration and the post-independence Republic of Dahomey, renamed Benin in 1975. Historiography of the kingdom has had a significant impact on work far beyond African history and the history of the kingdom forms the backdrop for a number of novels and plays."Unquote.

Below I include;
1. The Benin Tribal Map.
2. The Cave Drawing from at Mbafu Cave in the Lower Congo showing the Portuguese influence (see #20 above) in the cross format illustrating consecration of Don Henrique, son of King Alphonso the first of the BaKongo as the first Congolese Bishop in 1518." .
3. The quality of hand carved Ivory in the region thus the availability of artisans giving rise also to locally produced excellent Lion and big cat carvings common on Dahomey hilts.
4. A Knights Templar Fort adorned with A Cross probably Portuguese.

( The symbol of the cross within a circle is very ancient and has played an important part in the History of Humanity. The symbol can be found in many cultures and many places around the world. From the ‘Rosy’ Cross of the Rosicrucians to the American Indians’ “Sacred Hoop”, from the “Celtic” Cross to the symbol of certain tribes in Western Africa’s Burkina Faso and Ghana.)

Jim McDougall 2nd September 2017 05:53 PM

This a great background on Dahomey (now Benin) Ibrahiim, and thank you for taking the time to add these most helpful details on the regions and people of West Africa. It is pretty complex trying to understand the various religious and incurred colonial influences that compound the character and symbolic motifs and elements so your observations also are much appreciated.

In reviewing much of the material researched and presented which concern the notable Portuguese influences which prevailed in these regions, it is of course interesting to consider the occurrence of this cross motif in many of these West African sword blades.

With the Portuguese swords known variously as 'crab claw'; 'navigator' and 'black swords' colloquially, it has been established that many of these medieval form swords have equilateral crosses pierced in their discoid quillon terminals. It has further appeared that these openwork crosses seem to occur notably on examples of these swords which appear to be of colonial workmanship, thus probably produced in these West African regions.

In Burton, "Book of the Sword" (1884, p.165) he describes one of these swords illustrated same page line drawing (but with simple apertures in the quillons, not crosses) , "...upon the glorious Congo river, I was shown a sword belonging to the Mijolos or Mijeres, a tribe inhabiting the upper valley. All declared it to be of native make, and used during the sword-dance in the presence of the prince. But it is an evident copy of some weapon of the 15th century; and the knightly model , like that of the mpangwe (fan) cross bow, had drifted into the African interior. The handle and pommel were of ivory, the guard was a thin bar of iron springing from the junction of the blade and grip, forming an open oval shape pas d'ane below and prolonged upwards and downwards in two quillons or branches, parallel with the hilt and protecting the hand. The blade, which had a tang for heftng, was straight, flexible and double edged".

This is footnoted as well citing "The Cataracts of the Congo", p.234.

Clearly the sword described is one of these Portuguese swords, and its diffusion eastward into the Congo is of course understandable. The absence of the crosses in the terminals is notable, and would certainly have been elaborated on if present, in the Victorian convention of drawing the connection to the crusades and occurrence of such weapons in native context at every opportunity.

Returning to the west, and the dilemma of whether the cross in the quillons of Portuguese colonial swords of this form influenced the native swords of these 'cutlasses' or vice versa, it is surely a quandary.

It is understandable that European observers would characterize the equilateral cross, if seen in native context, as a 'Greek' cross, well known in European heraldry and Christian symbolism. These were of course, the very cross of the crusades in many cases, so the previously mentioned conventions of course would likely be in place.

While we have determined that these and similar equilateral crosses are probably not of the ilk of the Vodun or Obo types which seem of course in use later and with cross diffusion to Caribbean, it does seem quite possible they were known in the earlier native religious contexts of these regions.
These simple crosses are well established into prehistoric times and quite universally, so much so that most scholars are inclined to consider them convergent and unlikely to be connected empirically.

Still, one can imagine that the appearance of such a cross symbol would have been construed dramatically by arriving Portuguese, and vice versa, the natives seeing such device with them equally construed. The orders, such as the Order of Calatrava, certainly potentially present, might have provided such basis.

I suppose the question is, just how often and in what character, were equilateral crosses used on Portuguese (or other) sword hilts, especially in pierced openwork in this fashion. It is intriguing to consider that the use of openwork designs, devices and profiling is profoundly the character of these native ceremonial 'cutlasses', and perhaps this application was carried into the colonial made swords of Portuguese form.

Which came first?

Jim McDougall 3rd September 2017 01:47 AM

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In looking into the interesting symbol used by people in the Congo, the Nkisi Sarabanda (one of the primary deities of indigenous Congo religion) it is a 'cosmogram' configured exactly like the Jerusalem cross (attached).

This cross was significant as a coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the crusades (1099-1203 AD) and consisted of a cross potent with four small Greek crosses quartered.
It is notable that the Nkisi Sarabanda cosmogram is configured and consisting of the same crosses as the 'Jerusalem' cross.

While clearly many, perhaps even most, of the 'veve' (geometric device used to call on 'loa' or spirits) are later developed through the evolution of diasporic pantheons in the Americas and Caribbean through slave trafficking, it seems the Congo cosmogram may predate Portuguese arrivals in Africa.

The similarity to the distinct Jerusalem device is compelling, and we know that trade contact and diplomatic embassies between the Congo and probably other regions were extant as early as 1246AD with Tunis and Egypt as well as others. There are often adoptions of certain kinds of symbols and devices by disparate cultures without syncretic intent, and used with their own interpretations. Perhaps this was such a case with the Greek cross as seen here in Congo/West African context.

It seems that the tribal cultures in Africa in early times was much farther advanced than often realized in general, and that influences from Europe had diffused far into the interior and much of the Continent far before the European contacts recorded in exploration and colonization.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 3rd September 2017 09:19 PM

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Thanks Jim and the geometry at #19 above ties in the diagram of the Jerusalem cross you show here... They are very similar and flowing from that the example also transmitted through the slave trade .

I have a snake worship temple to show here (at Whyda?)...and for interest following on and concluding snake worship as it enters the central Caribbean region New Orleans etc...Via the slave trade. A lady with a huge snake.

The picture of the person sitting on the turtle is indicative of that creature which was viewed as being highly intelligent...

The Lion – The lion is an emblem for royalty, strength, conquest, valor, pride, wisdom, authority, courage and protection. The lioness represents the moon, femininity and fierce motherhood.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 7th September 2017 11:27 PM

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A. See

The Cross Part 4

Substantial evidence exists to support the agreed Christianity Conversion in West Africa...Reference A states that Quote"Missionary documents from the seventeenth century claimed that they had found a people who believed in a single god but did not know his name."Unquote. and clearly the Cross on Swords in the region comes from that situation. This process took an opposite view to the way the Spanish did it by force compelling them to convert in South America and the Portuguese suggested that the West Africans had already found God but simply had not realized it. All they actually needed to do was convince them that this was what they already believed in entirely different approach and one which was highly successful...

What I have trouble with is the time line... Notwithstanding the discussion I admire very much the picture below of the Church being constructed in the early period of Portuguese presence in West Africa which I think is about 1491 although I cannot be certain.This is from #165 on

Please note the two chieftains at right with swords at the waist in typical West African machete style and consider the hilts in this finely engraved picture which so far as I can see is very accurate. Observe the Lion or big cat hilts.

Sri Lanka, however,was not discovered until 1505 by the Portuguese thus this hilt form must be local by definition. I add that big cats lived in the region of course... and that the regal and powerful symbol of the chieftains was seen as enhanced with hilts of this nature. Top class carvers were common in the African region and multiple group carved examples of a highly complex nature were in fact highly prized trade items for the Europeans even before the advent there of slavery.

The cross insignia was dominant across the spectrum and it is acknowledged that crosses on swords and crucifixes were worn by chiefs deliberating on tribal matters..Ivory carvings were made of Portuguese soldiers (in the traditional African style) adorned with Crosses.

Below the famous scene of the Church being built and another cross decorated weapon from the region is shown for interest.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 8th September 2017 12:02 AM

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Other finely carved Ivory items from West African Artisans~The figure with the spear also wearing a Cross. This proves the expertise in Ivory carving in Dahomey thus in addition no reason to seek lion heads from elsewhere particularly a foreign unknown species and style from Ceylon.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 8th September 2017 12:56 AM

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In considering the big cats... and which one... since all could be admired ...It is certain that the Lion is the fore runner in this regard. The Great King Ghezo was succeeded by King Glele who reigned from 1858 until 1889; He revered the lion as seen in the weapons of war and authority below.. and illustrating how the lion was further incorporated into weapons design...enhancing its known appearance on hilts.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 9th September 2017 10:36 AM

Big Cat ...Dahomey kings preferred....?
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Well which was it? Lions or Leopards....This reference indicates a strong preference for Leopards...

On the other hand ...The lion was the personal symbol of King Glele, ruler of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) who reigned from 1858 to 1889. It was also used in a variety of objects to link relatives and would-be allies to the royal power.

Below two masks One Leopard the other Lion.

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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