EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Thank you very much for the notation Teodor, it was kind of you to recall that research which took place from about 1998 until I wrote the paper on the 'Zanzibar Swords' in 2004.
This example is as you note a bit different in the wood hilt, but as you have also well noted, these 'H' style hilts are compellingly like European baselards in many cases. It has never been distinctly connected to this European form, but these 's'boula', which are distinctly from the Maghrebi regions, could certainly have been influenced by examples of these. The influence of European edged weapons is virtually indisputable in many cases of North African arms.
As Ibrahiim has kindly noted, the attribution of these was brought out in 2004 when I prepared research and a paper on the so called "Zanzibar sword' which had been so designated in "Book of the Sword" (Burton, 1885).
Actually my 'discovery' I soon after realized had been addressed in the "Catalogue de la Collection d' Armes Anciennes" (Charles Buttin, 1933).
In this reference, the author noted that Richard Burton had apparently picked up the 'Zanzibar' attribution from the work of Auguste Demmin (1877) and that these swords in this exact shape were actually Moroccan s'boula. I confirmed this by obtaining a copy of the Demmin work, which had the exact line drawings and classifications used by Burton. I further confirmed this when I handled personally the original manuscripts of the Burton book at the Huntington Museum in California.
Further confirmation was in the copy of "Les Poignards et les Sabres Morocains" by Charles Buttin, Hesperis, Tome XXVI, 1939. 1, given to me by his great grandson Dominique Buttin.
These references were published posthumously for Charles by his son Francois, and as Dominique explained Charles had lived in Morocco for many years, so knew these Maghrebi weapons quite well.
The Zanzibar presence of these distinct swords derives from their being brought via trade networks across the Sahara, into Ethiopian regions (where examples are recorded with Amharic inscriptions, see Lindert, 1967) and certainly where they may have been acquired by Beja tribesmen (there are many Beja in Ethiopian and Eritrean areas) . In these entrepots they were exchanged in trade situations with the caravans to and from Zanzibar.
I do not think these hilts however are related to the well known dagger hilts on Hadendoa and other Beja examples.
In these trans Saharan trade networks, the influences of various Berber tribes were of course diffused into the groupings of weapons being carried with the caravans......which may account for the flyssa like needle point.
Actually these needle like points are quite common on these, and many are repurposed bayonet blades, many French as would be expected in French West African and Sahelian areas.
The curious lettering on this blade suggests distinct European influence in many blades which had inscriptions cryptically placed, usually acrostics for various invocations, mottos etc. While it may have been copied by a native artisan is hard to say, as European examples are often as disconnected linguistically or semantically as these inscriptions were often meant to be 'coded'.
The single example I had of one of these was with the brass repousse covering wood on the hilt and the blade was the needle point.