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Old 5th March 2017, 03:11 AM   #1
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Default Sboula for Comments

I acquired this sboula. Thanks to Jim's research and some photographic evidence, now we are in agreement on the geographic origin of these long daggers/short swords: the Maghreb.

However, it seems we know very little about their origin. The hilt is certainly unlike anything else in the Maghreb, or even in the Sahel. Tirri claims similarities with Beja daggers, but the hilt construction is entirely different: Beja hilts are of one piece of wood, whereas sboulas hilts are made of two pieces of horn riveted to the tang. Personally, I do not see a link.

I see a similarity with the baselard on the other hand. We know that Moroccan saifs had guards, influenced by southern European hilts from the Renaissance period, so European influence could have extended to other weapon forms as well.

The blade appears to have been made from that of a (most likely European) military sword. It has typical markings, which one can see on other sboulas that have been posted here for comment in the past. While they obviously are an illiterate copy, the symbols look like the Latin letters D, N & M - DOMINE? Whatever the case, this appears to be another trace of European influence.

The interesting thing about the blade is that it is not simply shortened, but the tip is shaped in a very particular way to a thin point. In a way, these blades are similar to flyssa blades, especially in the style of the tip. Morocco is quite a bit away from the Kabyle areas, but if these sboulas have showed up as far as Ethiopia and Zanzibar, then Algeria is not that much of a stretch at all.

I wonder if these daggers originated back in the 15-16th centuries from European influences, and then survived through the centuries as a form of a self-defense weapon similar to yataghans and bauerwehrs.

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Old 5th March 2017, 07:44 AM   #2
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Hi Teodor,

About the origin of your sboula, to me, this kind is from Tunisia/Libya. There is absolutly no link with the Beja or even Zanzibar, it's pure nonsense.
Look at the Tunisian swords already discussed.
Your model has a scabbard very Algerian/fyssa to me, it's interesting but not surprising between berber populations.

The cousin of the sboula is the Genoui in Morocco, another cousin is the Shula. All of them are stabbing weapons.

The blade appears to have been made from that of European military swords. Yes or Bayonet sometimes.

It has typical markings, obviously are an illiterate copy. This appears to be another trace of European influence. Yes - made on late 19th c. blades to imitate old and prestigious models.

I think the purpose of these daggers is so simple and basic they are probably
pre 15-16th centuries but the introduction of the Bayonet with the French army has probably accelerated the process...

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Old 5th March 2017, 08:09 AM   #3
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look a lot like a basilard or degen
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Old 5th March 2017, 12:57 PM   #4
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It is a very interesting discussion since it reflects what happens when a fact is placed in a publication in this case "Book of the Sword" by Burton where the S'boula appears as a ZANZIBARI WEAPON spuriously as it turned out along with two other weapons equally wrongly placed on the same page...What Burton probably would have preferred to write was that weapons from other trading regions often appeared on the Zanzibar streets like this S'boula from North African shores...with traders from Morocco etc.

In fact it took decades before this myth was disproven and largely, I understand, owing to work from this Forum where the right attribution was noted.

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Old 6th March 2017, 12:32 AM   #5
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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.

Last edited by Jim McDougall : 6th March 2017 at 04:04 AM.
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Old 6th March 2017, 05:13 PM   #6
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Thank you for the comments gentlemen.

Kubur, I personally believed the sboulas to be from Morocco, based on a couple of things:
1. The ones in Tirri's book show Moroccan decorative motives.
2. The only picture of a native wearing one shows him with an afedali musket from the Sous valley.

I am not opposed to Tunis/Libya attribution, but I just want to know what it is based on. I do agree that on one of my sboulas the scabbard does indeed look similar in construction to flyssa scabbards.

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