EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
As has been noted, collectors have a need for classification. This is because the items being collected have to be identified and categorized as they are being placed in a static situation. Here the are to be viewed and admired as objects of interest from various perspectives. That being the case, Collectors strive to find the most accurate and descriptive terms possible.
However, these weapons while in use during their working lives are in most cases referred to by local terms or colloquial words and nicknames.Those actually using the weapons do not care what they are called. In the struggle to discover the proper terms for weapons, those inquiring often ended up with semantically incorrect words, transliterations, and completely misapplied in many cases. Welcome to the world of 'collectors terms', a glossary of names for weapons which may or may not have anything to do with what these weapons are really called.
In many cases, efforts to find correct terms are regarded by native people of the regions of the weapons involved find these queries and the very notion of such efforts curious and often almost laughable.
The term kaskara, case in point. About 20 years ago, I began trying to discover the origin of the word, noticing that the first mention using the word in western literature was Burton (1885) but interestingly he made no reference to the etymology of scope of the term. For many years after, I tried to find more on the word from museum officials, authors, major collectors and dealers. None had the slightest idea of where the term came from, nor considered it of any importance. I even asked a friend who was an archaeologist in Sudanese regions, and prominent collector of Sudanese arms who was in Sudan, to check with the university in Khartoum. They had no answer for why the name 'kaskara' nor where it came from.
In interviewing people who had come from Sudan, Darfur and Eritrea.....none had ever heard the word kaskara, and when showed a photo of them....simply said sa'if.
It was not until our own Iain completed landmark research on tribes of the Sahara that he found the source for the word in one of the dialects. The term somehow became linked to the broadswords, probably through Burton, and then soundly and forever placed in the 'collectors glossary' as these Sudanese broadswords.
This goes on with so many ethnographic examples it would be impossible to cover all the examples and instances here. Even in European and other weapons, the same phenomenon takes place.
The only problem with the disparity between collectors terms, locally termed and broader terms for specific weapons is when one is researching a type as far as its history or development, and relying on contemporary narratives and accounts. Here the danger is that one weapon may be the actual item described, but semantically the researcher does not which weapon it really is.
As for regional attribution, there is nothing holding a weapon type within one region or another, they move freely with those carrying them or trading them. The Moroccan attribution of the H hilt s'boula is from reliable observation (Buttin), published sources and photographic evidence.
These show a preponderance of that characteristic hilt, which suggests this is the area they are likely from.
If there are countless examples in area A, but one or several turn up in area B, a region some distance away.....we are compelled to believe area A is the indigenous area, though some have diffused to area B and probably elsewhere.