EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
In previous discussions, there has been the illustration(attached) with an entry in a book by Mr. Rainer Daehnhardt, which shows a sword (cutlass) with a cutlass type blade distinctive to Dahomey, West Africa. What is notable here is that its hilt is remarkably similar to the Sinhalese kastane with lionhead.
It has been suggested that this hybrid may reveal possible links between these vastly distant locations or possible developmental influences.
Actually I believe it is simply a notation to the similarity to a Ceylonese hilt.
It is well known to us as students of ethnographica that such instances of items of distinctly regional or cultural form may turn up occasionally in situations where they are completely incongruent in areas far distant and disconnected from their point of origin.
This seems a case of the union of a foreign or 'exotic' hilt being joined to a Dahomean blade in the oft used convention of such hybridization with diplomatically oriented swords.
Some time ago in discussions here there was a case of what appears a hanger type sword of kastane form (but has been rehilted it seems without the lionhead) and shown described as a 'dragon sword', found in British Columbia in Canada. This was discussed in a book titled "Similkeen: The Pictograph Country" (Bill Barlee,1978) and other research revealed an inventory of 1836 of the Northwest Co. which included 12 'dragon swords'.
("Rocky Mountain Outfit, 1836, Fontanelle, Fitzpatrick &Co.", papers of the American Fur Company, Reel 7, vols. Y & Z, Missouri Historical Society).
It is compelling to think of these as examples of 'kastane' which had arrived somehow in this unusual setting, with the resounding question of 'how did they get here?'.
In one explanation, it is noted there was an ill fated Spanish expedition into these regions mid 18th century (suggesting the term 'turtle people' in native legend there referred to the cuirasses of the Spaniards. It is conceivable that the Spanish had acquired some of these Ceylonese swords via their colonies in the Philippines, as trade entrepots there of course would have networked with others trading in Ceylon.
* shown is the route of the Hasekura embassy of 17th c. where a kastane was acquired from the King of Spain, either in Spain or Philippines.
However, the trade company case with 12 swords listed as 'dragon' swords seems much more likely conditionally. Some suggestion has been made that the term 'dragon' may be a contracted use of the term 'dragoon' of course referring to the heavy cavalry sabres. There is always that possibility, except that no other examples of these dragoon swords are known in these contexts. The was a favor for shorter weapons such as hangers, and the 'broadswords' listed were actually short, heavy artillery sidearms (the term broadsword was still generically used in those times).
Returning to the potential origins of the Sinhalese kastane form, an interesting example of dagger/short sword is shown in "Arts of the Muslim Knight", Furasiyya Foundation, 2008 (p.206, #197). It is listed as Deccani, probably Bahamanid dynasty and of 15th century.
It seems that these Deccani influences, the downturned quillons with Makara heads, and the general configuration of the hilt pommel and knuckleguard are remarkably compelling as a proto-kastane form.
These influences diffusing via Tamils to the east, provided a compelling conduit with their trade and diplomatic contacts into Ceylon with the central kingdom of Kandy. The artisans and craftsman of this kingdom were well known for their work on the piha kaetta knives so key in royal regalia, and apparently development of the kastane into a sword of status as well.
Here again, certain elements and influences were syncretically combined in the form of hilt we know existed before c. 1600.