Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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-   -   Marking of weapons: Anthropologically and Sociologically (http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=5753)

Jim McDougall 1st January 2008 08:45 PM

Marking of weapons: Anthropologically and Sociologically
 
On the thread on early makers trademarks, much of the discussion was keyed on the identifying marks used by guilds and makers primarily from a commercial standpoint. However, much of the discussion revealed religious and talismanic characteristics of many of these marks as well as phrases and mottoes.

I would like to open a line of discussion that would address the origins and history of applying marks to weapons and the purposes of these applications. While this topic is clearly so close to that of the other thread, I thought this might be interesting in our deeper understanding of weapons.

I would begin with early man, who in prehistoric times did indeed apply certain markings to his tools, and weapons, which of course were often closely related and interchageably used. Clearly, the tribal shamans or similarly functioning individuals, established that depictions of animals that were prey in the hunt might imbue the hunter with equivilent totemic power. In these times, extremely stylized or temporal geometric designs evolved and often appeared in wall illustrations and eventually on implements as well. We can only imagine the intended meanings of these, however some consistancies would seem have been established in degree in locations of discovery, and most important, we see that markings on weapons became an anthropological factor.

Jumping ahead to historic times, in the ancient world, I recall reading of archaeological discoveries of arrowheads I believe in Israel or other regions of Biblical history importantance, where there were identifying marks places on the arrowhead. It seems that in the caption it was noted that the purpose of this was to enable the warrior to claim the victim as his personal victory.
I wish I recall the reference exactly, but perhaps others might be able to offer either support or dispute as to its validity.

In recent travels here in the U.S. I have visited many American Indian historical sites and regions, and have found the tribal histories fascinating, especially of course, the weaponry. While there were of course, certain characteristics of style, ornamentation and symbolism in the varied weapons, it seems the key weapon that often carried personal identification, and with that purpose, was once again, the arrow. It seems that this practice was directed to the hunt, and these arrows would identify the warrior who would own the prey. I some cases of course, the objective was more universally tribal and this specific claim was overlooked, and naturally this practice was not necessarily common to all tribes.

I just found this practice of marking weapons from the earliest times, even to the present day most interesting. In a recent visit to an air museum here in Tucson, I thought of this while viewing the 'nose art' and various symbolism applied to not only combat aircraft, but even at times to the ordnance. Many bombs were emblazoned with patriotic jingoism and combat humor as they were loaded into planes. Naturally we are all aware of the trophy 'kill' symbols seen near the cockpits of these planes.
This also brings to mind the legends of the gunfighters notching the handles of thier guns (as I am presently in Tombstone, Arizona) and recently discovering that this practice was primarily myth. As far as is known, none of the historically known and established gunfighters ever notched thier gun handles.

This is simply a topic that has been on my mind for a while and just thought I would share it with all of you in hopes that you might join me with your thoughts, observations and examples. As always, the perspective gained by the constantly amazing core of knowledge that hallmarks the members and readers of this forum is monumental, and as always..we learn together!

Gentlemen, the lines are open! :)

All very best regards,
Jim

Tim Simmons 1st January 2008 09:39 PM

Marks other than armoury.
 
Jim a good subject. Here are two recent additions which I post here quite recently, two Himalayan, Nepalese short swords. What is interesting is the X like mark on the scabbard of one. They are left and right in terms of scabbard decoration, does that have any relevance? One is clearly marked after the initial manufacture. The mark obviously meant something to the owner. I did wonder if it may have been a crude attempt at a cross Kukri symbol but I doubt that as the motif has an extra mark one that could not be a slip of the knife or a mistake. Difficult to fathom but it is there?


Luc LEFEBVRE 1st January 2008 10:39 PM

3 Attachment(s)
2 examples:
- diamonds marks, specific of the LAKA tribe on this throwing knife, but also simple lines engraved unexplained.
- 4 squared pieces (one missing) of metal on the handle of this SALAMPASU sword, unusual and unexplained.
The magic take a great place in Africa, and lot of weapons have magic symbol attached or engraved.
Unfortunately we have a few or no explanations of these symbols.
Luc

Jim McDougall 2nd January 2008 05:22 PM

Hi Tim,
Thank you for posting these Nepal swords, and interesting thoughts on this indeed crudely carved starlike mark that clearly is not part of the intricate carving of the scabbard motif. As you note, it would be difficult to imagine what the purpose of what such an almost defacing mark would be intended to mean, but its deliberate appearance suggests it had some purpose. This is the kind of thing I wanted to address in scope, and though we probably will not be able to determine actual meanings in many examples, it does seem possible we will might find some consistancies, and perhaps even possible explanations.

Thank you for posting the excellent African examples Luc! Here are examples of clearly intended geometric motif that probably did have distinct meaning to the tribesman or his group, and most likely may have had either folk magic or tribal traditional symbolism. I think Tim had an African stick posted not long ago that had geometric squares or diamonds on it, and there was some relation to numerics with such symbolism.
Tim, do you recall?

Thank you for posting these Tim and Luc, and especially for helping me get this thread going.

All best regards,
Jim

fernando 2nd January 2008 08:08 PM

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Hi Jim,
As a matter of fact, i love marks in weapons as much as i hate not to be able to decipher them :mad:
Many a times i see marks that do not actually exist, being simply casting flaws or, in the best, innocent decoration motifs.
These are two lance heads from North Cameroon, which bear nice engraving details on the blades.
I also include a drawing of a similar weapon, illustrated in Waffen aus Zentral-Afrika, with a detail within the same philosophy.
I wonder if these are simply free style decorations, following the taste of each blade smith, whether equally repeated in all their pieces or with timely variations, or if they instead follow patterns of a more comited purpose, like symbols of each ( family ) smith, or tribal "crests", etc.
Fernando

Jim McDougall 2nd January 2008 09:52 PM

Hi Fernando,
Great example! and I completely agree...I'm often fascinated to the point of obsession in studying markings and symbolism, and admit that often my imagination runs away a bit. However, sometimes marks are done crudely by individuals who are not artisans and unskilled with tools or items used as tools. No matter how crude, something added deliberately most likely had a meaning or purpose for the individual applying it.

In looking at the marks on this piece, I can see certain similarity, though obviously interpretive, of some European blade markings. In one case, the semicircle and dots, as we have discussed, look like the smith was recalling these marks from some trade or European blade he had seen. With heavy trade, colonial and slaving activity in these regions, it would not be surprising, but added in motif this way, what might the meaning be?

It seems to me that in Africa, symbolism and totems applied to tribal groups as a whole rather than to specific individuals, unless of course a tribal leader or ranking individual and obviously royalty. I realize that there are likely various exceptions to this of which I am unaware at this point, and I always look forward to hearing more from those with more detailed information.

I am inclined to think that even free styled motif, in the African tribal culture, would likely carry inherent symbolism or meaning, otherwise why would it be applied. Every day weapons were intended for practical use, and the ceremonial or symbolic weapons were obviously for that purpose and decorated accordingly. Perhaps, in his own simplistic way, even the most rank and file warrior must have wanted to imbue his own weapon with the power and meanings of those of his leaders, and did so crudely by his own hand.

With very best regards,
Jim

VANDOO 3rd January 2008 05:40 AM

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SOME ISLANDERS DID KEEP TALLY ON THEIR CLUBS I DON'T KNOW IF ANY OF THE MARKS WERE FOR TALLY AS THAT KNOWLEGE HAS BEEN LOST. IT IS NOT UNCOMMON TO FIND A MORE DEFINITE TALLY ON SOME CLUBS I DON'T KNOW IF THE TALLY IS OF VICTIMS OR OF GOOD MEALS EATEN. :D
IN THOSE DAYS IN FIJI IT WAS MUCH THE SAME AND SOMETIMES HUMAN TEETH WERE USED AS INLAY/ TALLY MARKS. HERE ARE SOME PICTURES OF TWO THROWING CLUBS CALLED ULA IN FIJI.

Andrew 5th January 2008 03:06 AM

Instant classic! :cool:

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=3699

Andrew 5th January 2008 03:22 AM

Here are some pix and old threads regarding some other markings for discussion:

http://www.vikingsword.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/001540.html


http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ght=spine+marks



http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ght=spine+marks
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attac...tid=13063&stc=1
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attac...tid=13044&stc=1

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ght=spine+marks

Jim McDougall 5th January 2008 05:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew


Wow!! Thank you so much Andrew :)

Jim McDougall 5th January 2008 05:34 AM

Those are some excellent examples you have posted Andrew.
The beautiful dha has a most interesting image that I cant quite make out, and you Mark, and Ian would have most of the insight on what it might represent. I'd sure like to hear more on the possibilities.

The second weapon's interesting line of piercings seem like they might be placed there for attaching something? or might these be like the holes seen in some mandaus, kampilans? It seems there was once some discussion suggesting these were filled with brass to signify 'victories'. I think that might have been in Cato?

With that, those deliberately placed transverse lines on the back of the blade with some diagonal and some straight seem like they are typically in numeric groupings. I recall trying to find out about these on a Laotian kamoong once, and there was some mention of tribal identity, or to that effect. It seems like these 'hashmark' like lines occur on the backs of blades of many SE Asian weapons with examples found elsewhere also, but cannot recall other specifics.

Thank you for posting these Andrew!

All very best regards,
Jim

kahnjar1 5th January 2008 07:27 AM

More Blade Marks on Dha
 
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:) :) I see that Andrew has added a couple of marks on Dha blades to this thread, so here are a few more, also from Dha to add to the mix. These are all on Dha in my collection.
I can not throw any light on who or what they signify, except to say that the one which includes what looks like Burmese script, is in fact Mon script which is the language from which Burmese was derived. There are other symbals incorporated in this one also beside the script, and the round "hatched" mark also appears on this sword. The Chinese character mark is on a Dha from Yunnan.
Hope these are of interest.
Stuart

Jim McDougall 6th January 2008 07:39 PM

Thank you so much for those great illustrations Stuart. Again,these are deliberate and seem strategically placed at key locations on the blades, some as if to associate with makers marks seen on both European and native blades. In some cases of course, the markings duplicated might be arsenal marks but that seems to a more limited instance.

On the 6th illustration, the ovoid , but broken, mark on the blade of the dha reminds me again of a discussion investigating such marks on the blade of a Laotian 'kamoong'. It was relayed to me that a tribal elder of the Hmong had looked at photos of the markings and suggested that this open oval meant something to the effect, 'the sword will return to its owner'. Naturally, this third hand 'evidence' must be regarded with caution, but I thought it worthy of note.
In China, there were often characters on the blades that carried mottos or action names for the weapon itself. One early ring pommeled dadao that I researched had such characters that said 'kill demons'. The sword also carried the ba gwa or 'eight trigrams' (if memory serves) which suggested the swords association to the Eight Trigram Rebellion c.1815 in China.

The squiggle marks seem quite elusive, and they do appear often in groupings in linear pattern and motif on SE Asian blades. I have not heard any constructive observations on these, and hope to hear anything more on them.

All best regards,
Jim

Jim McDougall 6th January 2008 08:22 PM

In discussion on the thread on psychological weapons, the subject of the bagpipes arose, and reminded me that the Scottish basket hilt sword and the often intricate designs in the hilts might serve as a good example of our topic here.

As is well known, the blades on the Scottish basket hilt swords of the 17th and 18th centuries were almost universally produced in Germany. The blades, when they arrived in Scotland, where then mounted locally with the now distinctly recognized basket hilts.

While our discussion concerns the applying of markings to weapons, I think the topic actually expands to the symbolism imbued in the design and motif of the weapon overall and its components.

Some years ago I became interested in the intricate piercings in the panels that are part of the construction of the Scottish basket hilt. One of the most consistant and intriguing designs was that of the heart, often appearing in systemic pattern in the panels. I had read in Whitelaw ("Scottish Arms Makers") that in many cases, the secret symbols of the Jacobites were added in the motif of the hilts of these swords. While I discovered some of the symbols did indeed appear, I could not find any Jacobite application that used the heart as a symbol.
Thinking that perhaps the symbolism for this often used motif in these hilts might be found elsewhere, I began more research. I recalled that the Scots were of course mercenaries, and often fought abroad, in many cases in Eastern Europe. I noticed that the heart shape often occurred in the arms and armor of Poland, and thought that possibly the Scots might have observed the heart used there and that I would pursue that course. Many ,if not most, of the Jacobites of course shared the Roman Catholic faith predominant in Poland or at least supported the Roman Catholic Stuarts. I contacted the well known and brilliant authority Professor Zygulsky, who thought my theory most interesting, but could not confirm nor support the idea. I contacted Claude Blair, who also thought the idea intriguing, but admitted there was little concrete material concerning the symbolism in these hilts. I contacted Dr. C. Mazansky, who was writing a book on basket hilt swords at the time, and he conceded that his efforts were confined to studying the typology of the swords.

The topic has remained with me for many years unresolved, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to bring it out here. I would very much appreciate the thoughts and observations of the readers and members concerning the significance of the heart design in these hilts.

With all best regards,
Jim

kronckew 6th January 2008 11:51 PM

the sacred heart is of course a widely used catholic symbol

these are often shown being pierced by a sword, so i'd expect a sword pierced by a heart would make sense.



piercing on basket:

kahnjar1 7th January 2008 02:18 AM

Laotian marks
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Thank you so much for those great illustrations Stuart. Again,these are deliberate and seem strategically placed at key locations on the blades, some as if to associate with makers marks seen on both European and native blades. In some cases of course, the markings duplicated might be arsenal marks but that seems to a more limited instance.

On the 6th illustration, the ovoid , but broken, mark on the blade of the dha reminds me again of a discussion investigating such marks on the blade of a Laotian 'kamoong'. It was relayed to me that a tribal elder of the Hmong had looked at photos of the markings and suggested that this open oval meant something to the effect, 'the sword will return to its owner'. Naturally, this third hand 'evidence' must be regarded with caution, but I thought it worthy of note.
In China, there were often characters on the blades that carried mottos or action names for the weapon itself. One early ring pommeled dadao that I researched had such characters that said 'kill demons'. The sword also carried the ba gwa or 'eight trigrams' (if memory serves) which suggested the swords association to the Eight Trigram Rebellion c.1815 in China.

The squiggle marks seem quite elusive, and they do appear often in groupings in linear pattern and motif on SE Asian blades. I have not heard any constructive observations on these, and hope to hear anything more on them.

All best regards,
Jim

Thanks Jim,
As a matter of interest, the mark you refer to as possibly being of Lao origin is on a Dha purported to be of Cambodian origin, so just across the border!
The "s" shaped marks appear quite often on Dha and I have always taken these as decoration rather than a makers mark.
This subject is getting huge!! Hopefully someone is collating all these marks for future reference??!! :)
Stuart

Jim McDougall 7th January 2008 02:57 AM

This subject is getting huge!! Hopefully someone is collating all these marks for future reference??!! :)
Stuart[/QUOTE]


Absolutely Stuart! That was exactly what I had in mind with this topic and the thread on trade markings. These topics often have come up in threads over the years and my goal was to establish sort of an 'in house' archives for us all to refer to. Many of the references that have been cited are quite hard to find, and often expensive when they are. Also the subject matter has seemed to always have room for deeper study, and who better than all of us here to accomplish that together! :)

Interesting note on that symbol appearing in Cambodia also. The squiggle marks I am pretty sure are motif, but what I am unclear on is what they represent. I have heard suggestions of water, rice paddies among others, but none with much basis to consider.


Kronckew, excellent examples! Thank you for posting those. It does seem quite clear that the heart shape has distinct Catholic symbolism, and the Jacobites were in support of the Catholic Stuart royal family. Of the described Jacobite symbols I have seen noted in varied items however, the heart has never been included. The only significant symbol noted was the white rose. The only other Scottish object I can recall with heart shapes was an antique Scottish chair I had.

Thank you guys!
All very best regards,
Jim

Andrew 7th January 2008 04:31 AM

I believe in one of the threads I linked to, PUFF provided information about the "S" squiggles on contemporary Thai swords. Apparantly, they are maker's marks.

kahnjar1 7th January 2008 06:01 AM

Jim you have PM
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
This subject is getting huge!! Hopefully someone is collating all these marks for future reference??!! :)
Stuart



Absolutely Stuart! That was exactly what I had in mind with this topic and the thread on trade markings. These topics often have come up in threads over the years and my goal was to establish sort of an 'in house' archives for us all to refer to. Many of the references that have been cited are quite hard to find, and often expensive when they are. Also the subject matter has seemed to always have room for deeper study, and who better than all of us here to accomplish that together! :)

Hi Jim,
Have PMd you
Stuart


Kronckew, excellent examples! Thank you for posting those. It does seem quite clear that the heart shape has distinct Catholic symbolism, and the Jacobites were in support of the Catholic Stuart royal family. Of the described Jacobite symbols I have seen noted in varied items however, the heart has never been included. The only significant symbol noted was the white rose. The only other Scottish object I can recall with heart shapes was an antique Scottish chair I had.

Thank you guys!
All very best regards,
Jim[/QUOTE]

fernando 4th February 2008 10:12 PM

hearts pierced in baskethilts
 
It has been a while since i tried to find the origin of this procedure, that of piercing hearts in the guards of baskethilts and dirks. Through Norman McCormick, i found a source qualified on this area.
Here is the explanation given by Paul Macdonald, of Macdonald Armouries:

My thanks for your enquiry regarding the symbology of Scottish craftsmanship.
The heart has been used in Scottish craftsmanship for centuries. Jewellry incorporating hearts date from the early 16th century and it was used as a common decorative symbol on basket hilt swords, targes and dirks.
The basis for most artistic decorative work is that of repeated pattern or symbols. All cultures vary in what these specifically are in themselves. The Scottish Highland (as the Highlands generated specific cultural artistry now recognised as being generally `Scottish`) symbols commonly seen are the concentric circle (dating from Pictish times in stone carvings), Celtic knotwork in waveform (also indigenous to other Celtic nations as Spain, Ireland and Northern Italy), squared `key` form (as aldo seen in Roman culture) or zoomorphics (also seen in Scandanavian countries) and the heart.
The heart can be found in much Highland decorative metal and stonework. Rosslyn Chapel has a carving (from early C15th) of a man holding a heart. The legend is that this is the heart of Robert the Bruce, which as we know was carried as an iconic symbol to the Holy land on the crusades.
The Scots did not forget this great man and what symbolised his presence.
The symbol of the heart can also be found largely used in religious art from the C15th onwards. Christ holding a heart or legend of one of Christs wounds being to the heart are commonplace in Christian symbology. This is not the origin of this artistic expression however, as the heart symbol has been used in artistic decoration from as early as the 7th century BC.
To recognise the importance of this particular symbol to Highlanders, we have to look a bit deeper into the Highland culture and sense of identity. The Highlanders were not just a barbaric fighting nation as commonly imagined, but a race of warrior poets and artists, with an great sense of tradition, family, community and humanity.
The land shapes the Highlander, as he is early obliged to accept the naturally changing surrounding elements and forces of terrain and weather. This and the fact that the land is of natural form that allows for small communities to settle only, there being no large enough stable and flat ground mass to accomodate the building of anything like a city.
Highlanders are as a result direct in communication and relation with any individuals they meet, not closed minded or full of self importance, but naturally open in mind and heart.
The heart is the centre of the self, that from which we really feel and hear Life from if we listen closely enough. Gaelic song and poem are full of references and subject of Heart and what this is. It is literally a central symbol of Highland culture and identity. A reminder of what is important in Life, and where we are from. It is where answers can be found.
Heart is what Highlanders listen to, abide by, and fight with.
I hope that the above goes some way towards your own answer.
Yours Very Truly,
Macdonald

Bill M 4th February 2008 10:59 PM

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Fascinating thread, Jim!

I hope the King of Khuks, aka Spiral will comment also.

I would suspect that many "traditional" blade markings were made for a purpose. Metalwork is not easy and the makers had to work at some of the designs. This would indicate, to me, that they put strong significance in making these designs.

Re the following Khukri with the traditional cut in the blade.

I have heard that the "Cho" could be a tantric symbol of penis and vagina. Male and female energies in balance. The more mundane say it is merely a place for blood drain off and not get on the grip.

This is a Janawar or really big kuhuri. Used in beheading big animals in sacrifical rituals. I have long wondered what the other designs (particular to this blade) signify?

Bill M 4th February 2008 11:04 PM

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The wooden carved scabbard for the preceding Khukri shows lines of force. These were used by many societies for a variety of purposes. Some to protect the article enclosed in the scabbard.

Others to gather and focus energies.

And yet other societies made maze-like patterns to trap evil or destructive spirits.

Animistic societies feared the spirits of the animals they killed much more than they feared the animal when it was alive. They could deal with a living animal easier than a vengeful spirit.

Bill M 4th February 2008 11:06 PM

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The Dayak liked to carve leeches in their mandau, to give it a taste for blood. :eek:

Like most of the symbolic possibilities, all this is open to interpretation. But what do you see here?

Jim McDougall 5th February 2008 12:32 AM

Fernando, thank you so much for posting this beautiful and eloquent description of the symbolism applied by Scottish Highlanders to the basket hilt sword hilts ! I have heard of Mr. MacDonald before in research I was doing on the Scottish basket hilt, and I can see now why he was so highly recommended for answers to my questions.
If ever a toast of Drambuie was in order....it is to him for writing this .

Bill, thank you for coming in on the thread. You have great insight into this perspective so it is good to have your observations. I agree that in many societies, there was profound fear of malevolent spirits that were released when a weapon killed, and as you note, the markings certainly had meaning.

The cho on the kukri has been the subject of debate for decades that I can remember. It is a consistantly applied feature on the blade of virtually every true ethnographic kukri, and there are of course symbolic suggestions and as always, those who try to find practical application. The same is true in the so called 'Spanish notch' in Meditteranean knives and the curious notched tips in Austrian cavalry swords of the 18th century. Many suggestions that have been discussed have been compelling, however there are as far as I know, none that can be proven.

All best regards,
Jim

Paul Macdonald 6th February 2008 03:26 PM

Slainte!
 
Mr. MacDougall,

It seems that you already know our hearts if you like a Drambuie :)

Thankyou for your comments and thankyou Fernando for pointing me towards this forum. I look forward to more interesting topics in future.

Yours Very Truly,

Paul Macdonald,
Macdonald Armouries,
Macdonald Academy of Arms
http://www.historicalfencing.org/Ma...rmory/index.htm
www.historicalfencing.org/Macdonaldacademy

Rick 6th February 2008 04:05 PM

Welcome to the forums Paul . :)

fernando 6th February 2008 06:47 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Macdonald
... and thankyou Fernando for pointing me towards this forum ...

And i am proud to bring in such new member :cool: .
Fernando

scratch 7th February 2008 09:53 AM

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G'day,
Fernando, something similiar to number 5 post I think, I believe this to be a well used ceremonial Kukri.
LEECHES :eek: Thank you Bill, I had thought the desighn to be maggot based, as in the worms of time/crom cruach, courtesy of 2000AD comics :D
What an interesting thread this is! Thanks to the instigator.

Cheers,

Dan :)

fernando 7th February 2008 01:01 PM

Jim McDougall, the instigator :eek: :D ;)

Bill M 8th February 2008 12:07 AM

In many societies twins are considered magical or mystical because it is thought that twins share a common soul.

The legend says that long ago in a Batak kingdom in Summatra a noble woman was about to give birth when a shaman predicted she would give birth to twins. A boy and a girl.

The shaman told the parents that the children should be separated at birth and never allowed to meet, or the consequences would be dire.

So after their birth the twins were separated. Each was sent to far ends of the kingdom, the parents hoping the sheer distance between them would prevent them ever meeting.

However, as they reached their teenage years they each felt an urge to travel. They met, not knowing they were siblings. They found an instant rapport and spent the night together.

The next morning they awoke and walked together into a great forest. They heard a strange sound high in a tree. The boy climbed up through the branches to investigate.

The girl waited on the ground for some time calling out to the boy, who did not answer. So she climbed the tree also.

Word had spread to the parents and, fearing the worst, the parents sought their children. They found them at the top of the tree, frozen together forever.



This is the hilt of a Piso ne Datu. "Sword of the Magician." Swords like this were considered too powerful to be kept inside a home and had their own special house.



I find the carving quite interesting.



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