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Old 20th February 2013, 02:17 PM   #12
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Location: Buraimi Oman, on the border with the UAE
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Originally Posted by Iain
Hi Ibrahiim,

I'll get into the marks again a bit below, but this is broadly why I didn't want to get caught up in the combat/non combat idea. I think its a bit counterproductive to examining the origins of the blade form and is leading to some preconceptions that are perhaps not entirely supported. I think you are certainly asking the right questions - i.e. why does this form pop up. Although the conclusions you are drawing aren't ones I can fully get behind.

This is where I just have to flat out disagree. There are major differences that I've pointed out between the two forms.
  • Length
  • Profile
  • Use of fullering
  • Use of blade marks

The characteristics of the straight sayf are quite different then than the older battle sword form. To say it is merely a copy of the older form without the former's functionality is difficult to support I think. If that where the case, there would be no reason to adapt the different hilt, no reason to lengthen the blade, no reason to do anything really other than increase the flexibility and even that raises some interesting questions...

There's also the interesting question of why flexibility is important in the dance... Because of aesthetics? Because flexibility used to be considered an important quality for selecting blades (in a combat/usage sense) then taken to an extreme for effect in the dance? As I recall you have mentioned in fact that the older style is quite stiff. So that produces another question, when and why the focus on flexible blades.

Just to touch briefly on the stamps again but I guess my original point wasn't expressed clearly enough... It is not a question of local stamping versus European stamping. It is purely a question of why local makers used stamps clearly taken from a foreign context. The only logical reason is because blades with those original stamps were known, respected for their quality and thus the stamps and marks were worth the effort to copy.

I'm glad you agree about the fullers - if you take the battle sword as a pattern of sword production before the straight sayf - the use of fullering is then due to outside influence. Why was it adopted? Why was this style chosen and how did they gain experience of this form if they weren't using these blades from a foreign context? It's not the sort of choice that I can imagining happening "overnight" and requires as a pre requisite: contact, use and evaluation. All of this points strongly to the use of straight blades, from a foreign source, in an Omani context.

I've always found your efforts intriguing about this type and as you note your approach as always been from a certain viewpoint which I can understand. However I think the approach has certain inherent weaknesses (as do all approaches in varying respects). The main issue I see is that the pageantry viewpoint is inherently leading to often examining the form from the viewpoint of what the sword form is used for now and all that goes with that in a modern context - local production, local stamps etc. However that has left to the side the questions of origin. No matter if the blades are produced locally and the stamps locally done as well - where is the vector, the point of change which caused this to happen? Why such a close coincidence with European trade blades? Again, for me personally, its a little much to attribute to chance. The central question remains, as it has over the course of these discussions for me, the point of change between the older form and the newer. The idea that the newer is simply a development of the older form is still I think tenuous at best for all the reasons highlighted above.

Just a brief note when it comes to local sources and looking at modern versions of traditions like dance - I've had some experience with this in my own research areas. Unfortunately, and this is quite frustrating, the people inside the culture using a weapon are quite often not as interested in the history of it as we might be. The sort of detail we look for is often not preserved and I think conjecture over a period of several hundred years based on examining largely modern examples of a form is not conclusive. Particularly because you've noted that in a modern context the stiffer attributes of trade blades would not be desirable and thus unlikely to be encountered in the present day in the region - they aren't in demand.

This ties into your point about lack of evidence for an alternative to your theory - I personally think the evidence is there. It may be implied rather than a physical example in your hand - but it is there. From fullers to blade length. I've highlighted in past threads examples with likely European blades, always from collections and auctions outside the region. This ties directly into my point above - these are less likely to be encountered locally, going on all the detailed info you've given about the current situation of sayf manufacture and use - because nobody would want them now.

Hopefully the museums will have some more info they can make available to you of documented, older pieces. Ideally something 18th century that's known to have not been rehilted or otherwise changed.



Salaams Iain ~ Last point first.. I agree and hopefully I can get some details from Museum archives to give a pointer in the right direction.

I propose to debate the weapon now as a fighting sword in the 4 points discussed below.

The time criteria for this sword is quite tight. I think we are talking about a sword that appeared between 1750 and 1800. We know that the Rak makers were probably starting to make these in about 1950. That leaves quite a narrow fighting sword window of opportunity.

Swords were on their way out vice gunpowder weapons moreover this sword is very unsuitable for war. I have the following serious misgivings about the weapon ever being used as a Battle Sword viz;

1. It is spatulate tipped and thus useless for thrusting.. a prerequisite for doing battle against hard targets...body armour. Its Terrs shield would be useless agianst mounted infantry or ground troops. Can you envisage this being used in a war situation? Why would Omanis go for a battle weapon that is bendy and allow it to take over the battle role from such an excellent weapon as The Omani Battle Sword? Such an important decision and point in Omani military history as a total tactical sword change would be common knowledge and apparent in historical context in documents and in the swords literature but there is absolutely nothing ~ for good reason.

2. The war sword provided for by whom? The Europeans would hardly be in the market to create the blade in its bending format because it simply isnt a sword as such. What is more why would an Islamic country look to Euroipe to create its battle sword which would take over battle duties from its honorific Old Omani Battle Sword? An Islamic Icon. At the heart of Ibaathi Islam in Oman and centred on the interior capital Nizwa.. In the middle of a gunpowder revolution... in Oman. Why in all the Islamic documentation is there no clear indication of this provision?

3. The sword trail of European Swords the Trade Blade track is viewable clearly through Africa. No evidence of spin off of these blades is seen in African blades obtained from Europe. On the other hand take Ethiopian blades which are all over the red sea even mounted on every hilt from Muscat longhilts to Indian Tulvars. In other words there is no trail to follow. Why can we find no Omani blades produced in Europe on the African trade routes?

4. Masses of Swords went from Europe to Ethiopia etc... but they were all proper fighting blades with invariably throat stamps and original European marks... Omani Sayfs don't have these marks. Why is this?

Turning to other foreign suppliers which is to me half swallowable, for example; India and or Yemen. Frankly I am not convinced one way or the other that these countries are not in some way providers of ... in part ... of some of the blades. It could be that the sword style at Swede Greens thread and to which I have already pointed to in Kattara for comments may be responsible for the entire Omani dancing Sayf form; blade and hilt.

To my eye, however, (and having seen no evidence to the contrary yet) the Omani Sayf was locally made and since Nizwa was the seat of Ibaathi Islam I reckon it is there that we should also search. We know for certain that Gypsies known as Zutoot wandered the entire country making metal tools, dagger blades and swords on commission both before and during the period in question and fading out after 1970. Their time scale matches the timescale on the dancing sayfs.

I also must say that your posts are excellent, probing and detailed in analysis of what we are all trying to achieve and that I am filled with enthusiasm by your points raised... which may after all be quite correct. This would not be the first time I have gone after the red herring! I look forward to seeing what the museums have to say.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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