Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Buraimi Oman, on the border with the UAE
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Excellent Ibrahiim!!! I had overlooked that letter of 1619 and its content, which of course mentions Hasekura 'shopping' (the letter now in Sendai Museum) and is on display with the kris and Ceylonese 'dagger' (actually a kastane). While we assume these were acquired in the Philippines, there is as yet no supporting narrative to accurately provide that provenance.
We note the curious blade of the kastane and the mythical beast feature and its remarkable similarity to Chinese weapons and such features. While we remain compelled to consider the acquisition point of this kastane to be the Philippines, that would seem to favor those regions with the strong trade presence of China there. Naturally many other regions are represented there as well.
The hilt style does seem to correspond to those of the kastane of course, but the blade is remarkably atypical. The scabbards on many forms of edged weapons in these regions seem less than durable in most cases, and these arms are often refurbished with new scabbards many times in their working lives. The fact that this one does not come with a scabbard en suite would suggest to me that it is less than a 'presentation' weapon, and far more likely to have been 'acquired'.
If the kastane and the kris were sent back to Japan prior to Hasekura's return and with a letter to his son, perhaps these items were at that point simply novelties meant for his son or his own keeping. The portrait of the Pope does not seem included in that transport back to Japan precluding his return, so it would seem that was specifically intended for Date Masemune
These edged weapons on the other hand, acquisitions seemingly less than presentation grade, were perhaps included as second thought to Date along with the portrait.
These circumstances might better facilitate the idea that perhaps Hasekura might indeed have adopted a heraldic arms in European style to reflect his status as a baptized Christian, which was of course powerfully important to him . It remains unclear whether these stamped devices on the blade may have been applied in this regard, but the possibility is interesting .
Returning to the broader scope of our discussion, one of the reasons for such interest in the 'Hasekura' kastane is to establish a provenance example of the kastane form hilt has been to establish a time frame for the development of the hilt style.
While there has been considerable discussion on what zoomorphic creatures are depicted in the decorative motif on these hilts, the very nature of these depictions remain quite subjective and notably debated . Naturally since the artistic license inherent in depictions of mythical creatures as well as stylistic renderings of actual ones is often profound, it is difficult to accurately analyze these figures . It does have certain importance in the possible reasons for variation or exactly what creature is represented however.
For example, and treading carefully into sensitive matters, is it possible that the lionhead (Sinha) is indeed represented on all distinctly Sinhalese examples of the kastane, and that the variants might be provenanced from other ethnic origins? Naturally I implore complete objectivity here, and offer the suggestion only as a possible accounting for the variations in style.
I do not believe that the styling of these zoomorphic hilts was directly resultant from European collaboration, however it is known that beautifully carved ivory hits were produced in Ceylon for European markets as early as 16th century. The work of these artisans certainly had considerable bearing on Europeans fascinated with the exotica of these faraway places, and I believe there was likely considerable cross diffusion in place through the colonial periods.
Salaams Jim ~ I agree and perhaps we may examine your last point on styling though I cannot rule out diffusion / influence from a variety of European styles and since Sri Lanka had a healthy network of maritime links through the Moors of Sri Lanka their highly skilled seagoing experts and merchants, thus, goods as you note such as elaborately carved hilts whilst flowing out, could well have been balanced by sword forms flowing in...at least from the influence viewpoint. We may perhaps assume that Mediterranean swords including Jinetta and Nimcha variants could have been imported well before Portuguese intervention in 1505.
It is, however, worth viewing what parts of the Kastane are home grown and what parts are not...and having done that to see by stripping away the home grown structures what is left?
The hilt or handle is obviously Sri Lankan and taken from their rich Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Regarding gold, silver, blade making, ivory and gems~ evidence to show ivory carving specialists stretches back into their history. See The caste system incorporates the full range of specialists to take on the very elaborate work required and Royal Workshops were highly tuned to these methods. The abundance of religious deities spilling down the handguard, and finials on crossguard and rainguard is evidence of the very powerful influence from mythology and spiritual belief..In particular the so called Quillons form a reminder of ancient religious design clearly reflected from Vajra structures from ancient Buddhism. It could be argued that the quillons are purely artistic since they are neither there to trap an opponents sword nor can a finger be placed to give added pressure or power to a strike. The rainguard though practical in securing the weapon in the scabbard is elaborately decorated in scrolls or in the peacock style in line with Deity artform..
The blade is occasionally straight either straight or curved and can be elaborately worked in a way that reflects blade decoration also employed in Pihae Kheata knives.
What then having stripped away these local concepts and designs is left so that we may be able to indicate possible links to European, Indian or other weapons?
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.