EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
It is interesting to see the great developing discussion here especially pertaining to the markings, which of course have been a key fascination of mine for more years than I can say. I am also glad to see agreement in my notes (post #5) suggesting the s'boula hilt connection, which as noted could place this refurbished blade in many regional contexts throughout the wide Berber sphere. As Charles has noted, the occurrence of a weapon in a certain place or with a particular ethnic or tribal individual does not necessarily establish that as its indigenous provenance. The diffusion of ethnographic weapons through trade, warfare and often nomadic movements makes such classifications not only typically unlikely, but profoundly speculative.
Returning to the markings, especially the 'man in the moon' (known as dukari in Saharan parlance usually in pairs on takouba and occasionally on some kaskara in Sudan)....I think it is well established that this image or device has been adopted rather universally in native symbolism. While the original 'moon' character was part of a type of talismanic motif that evolved from various occult and magical followings, believed to have originated probably in Spain, it was soon widely used in Germany.
As trade blades from Germany (the preponderance of volume) entered various centers and diffused into other regions via caravan routes, clearly the presence of such marks were emphasized by merchants to signify the quality of the blades. As these blades dispersed into tribal elements, the markings became often seen in the visual perspective of the folk religion symbolism. There can of course be many interpretations of what these might be as perceived temporally by these typically highly superstitious and not necessarily highly educated tribesmen.
What is key is that the presence of these symbols became a matter of imbuement rather than distinct imagery or iconography. What was important was what the marking or its presence was supposed to induce in the blade, not what it was necessarily supposed to be. Over time these typically paired 'man in the moon' became degenerated in form to the point of being unrecognizable, but still their placement served its purpose .
I think the occasion of these kinds of markings often appearing only on one side of the blade could signify apotropaic importance as protection from evil or malevolence was a prevalent concern in tribal cultures. The outer or 'exposed' face of the blade (sometimes scabbards as well) would have talismanic devices to ward off these forces. The flyssa is a good example of such geometric devices but it is on both blade faces. I think that the images in Briggs note similar mark grouping on a nimcha on one side only . On many Arab swords, the 'aghreb' (=scorpion) appears only on outer side to deflect evil eye.