EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
This unusual style hilt as I noted, appears similar to some hilts of the sabres used by Bedouin tribes of Sinai and into Palestinian regions from what I have understood. Mostly I am referring to the rather block style pommel instead of the more familiar 'hand nock', excluding the guard (the Palestinian types are guardless). The metal sheet wrap around it seems similar to other Yemeni hilts, as does the piton type D ring guard, which as we have now determined, is a form of guard in a cache of these swords acquired by Artzi around 20 years ago and from Yemen.
After a long period of assuming these ring guards were Zanzibari, as per discussions with Artzi, it now seems that while they were indeed provenanced from Yemen, there is no real proof they were assembled fully in Zanzibar as he suggested. Therefore there is no reason to presume these distinctive guards are indicative of Zanzibar .
They indeed appear to be 'Arab' as classified in Buttin (1933) in all the illustrated examples with this feature.
In going through notes this evening I discovered another example of the same type hilt as yours, metal wrapped pommel section, metal knuckleguard and D ring guard, and was posted in 2010 on another forum. Interestingly the motif on the grips were the same diamond shapes but also roundels. The blade on this one had the same deep channels and in this case Busch & Son(?) latter 19th c. Solingen.
I do recall the discussions some years ago claiming that blades were at times realigned from straight to curved and vice versa.
In the latter 19th century, around 1890s and later, there were considerable arrangements between Menelik II and both German and British blade suppliers to import blades. There was also considerable traffic outside official channels with such blades to private importers in Harar and Addis Adaba, mostly Armenian merchants in Harar.
A large number of these blades were deep channeled blades like your example, but these were indeed usually straight. It stands to reason that curved examples would have been brought in as well, as all of these blades were being mounted in rhino hilts for shotels. There was still a market among tribal figures for the traditional parabolic blade shotels as well as those with varying curve. I cannot see the purpose of straightening or curving blades when both types were readily available.
Many of these were apparently shipped to Yemen, apparantly for the rhino hilts, mounted in these blades due to restrictions on bringing in the horn alone. It would seem that most of these blades probably entered these regions pre WWI, and were refurbished with various hilts a number of times over the years. Many of these hilt components may also have been compositely assembled into these variant forms of nimchas.
While it has long been generally assumed and held that these ring guard nimchas were produced in Zanzibar, it seems most likely that these were assembled in Yemen with varying blades brought in from 'Red Sea trade'. In this case the Ethiopian blades probably filtered through Zanzibar, then on to Yemen with Arab merchants. This seems likely to have been how the 'Zanzibar' attribution may have been tagged to the Yemen swords, when it was actually the blades, not the entire swords being referred to.