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Old 18th May 2011, 09:35 AM   #18
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Default Omani Swords. Origins.

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Hi Ibrahiim,
Thank you for the references to the Abbasid sword in Topkapi, and for continuing the most intriguing line of discussion on these swords. I very much like the way you are fielding responses to us individually and with personal attention, and appreciate your taking the time to do this as it is most informative. I am also enjoying learning more on the tribal groups you are describing to learn more on the fascinating history of Oman.

What has become most fascinating is to now realize that these forms of Omani sword are independant rather than developmentally connected, and I believe that Elgood had expressed in his book that the connections between them were somewhat tenuous. Actually the text noted that the origins of what we are terming the 'Omani short sword' were entirely unclear, though he noted several possibilities including Omani settlements in Baluchistan etc. (mentioned in discussions in 2009). Therefore I very much am in accord with your suggestions on the Abbasid origins, and delighted to learn more on this aspect.

What is now termed the 'long kattara' does indeed seem to have originated somewhat around the time of expanded Omani trade and colonial activity, and the increases in presence of trade blades in these regions. I am not sure that the cylindrical type hilt would have had to develop from a sword form in Africa, in fact this simple form would easily have developed independantly.
The fact that there is similarity in form or elements in a type of sword found in different spheres does not actually imply a developmental connection, as I have found, despite the compelling suggestion. With that being the case, it seems most likely that the 'long kattara' may have developed independantly, although if there is any connection to the Mandingo or Maasai guardless swords, I feel it would have been imported through trade materials oroginating with the Omani's. The sword was not the primary weapon with tribal groups in Africa in most cases, and became more commonly used post contact with traders from Europe and Arabia.

In Arabia, as I understand, the use of trade blades was quite prevalent from around 16th century onward, and of course many of these were German, though many came from India and Persia as well. By the later 17th and 18th centuries, the German blades had become more prevalent, and the spurious markings were of course commonly present usually suggesting quality to those acquiring them. As Teodor has noted, there was considerable contact through trade with Caucasian areas, and many blades from there had been marked with the 'running wolf' (of Germany) and the 'sickle marks' (N. Italy and Styria). Since many of these blades were of the curved form used on shashkas, it does seem that these occurred accordingly on the open kattara style hilts.

Also interesting is your note on the material used on the terrs shields, and mostly I have heard of rhino, but not of the whale hide. This would be quite understandable though, as there was a great deal of use of narwhal tusk in hilts in India, and the trade sources must have had these materials both available. Naturally the trade with Malabar in India provided probably these as well as certainly numbers of European blades which were available through Mahratta merchants.

All the very best,

Salaams Jim, Thanks for another very substantial and supporting response. Teodor, as you rightly say, points out the Shashka link to the curved Sayf and refers quote; ...
"As for the curved sabers, I think I read somewhere in Elgood's book that in the mid 19th century, a lot of Caucasian shashka blades made its way into Southern Arabia (connected perhaps to the Circassian diaspora?) and were quickly given local hilts. When I look at the blade on mine, it certainly could have been taken from a shashka" .

I have several shaska blades on flat conical Omani hilts and others on falcon head shaped hilts. I wonder if the hawk style hilt also originated there in the Caucasus as well... Hunting with falcons although popular with the arabs may not be the reason for the hawkshead style on the shaska blades in Arabia... perhaps the entire Curved Sayf; blade and hilt, is Caucasus inspired?

On the subject of Omani Kattara Long. Here is an important passage from W. H. INGRAMS who was an official advisor to the British governor and unusually advisor to the Sultan of Zanzibar variously from about 1919 (published in 1931) in which he describes~

" The only performance or dance of the Arabs is the sword dance, RAZHA, accompanied by an orchestra of drums while the performers armed with swords and Jambiyya and small shields of rhinoceros hide indulge in mimic contests. leaping about and weilding their swords in a truly marvellous way".

However what I find amazing is...This was not a Zanzibari dance. W. H. Ingrams goes on to explain that this was only carried out by the Manga(those born in Muscat) not those Mwarcha (those born in Zanzibar).

Could this mean that the Omanis developed entirely separately a fighting system(long blade and buckler) with its own dancing martial activity totally unrelated to Zanzibar and that Zanzibar is an enormous red herring in the proceedings?

If that is the case we may need to look a lot earlier for the answers on Omani Kattara Long and Terrs Buckler Shield!
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