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Old 12th August 2017, 05:31 PM   #1
colin henshaw
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Default Two West African swords/cutlasses for I.D.

These two West African swords (need cleaning) are recent acquisitions. I havn't seen this pattern before, they seem to have a combination of styles.

Can anyone help to shed more light on them. The forested/coastal region of West Africa is very interesting but somewhat under studied...

Thanks in advance.
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Old 12th August 2017, 06:27 PM   #2
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
These two West African swords (need cleaning) are recent acquisitions. I havn't seen this pattern before, they seem to have a combination of styles.

Can anyone help to shed more light on them. The forested/coastal region of West Africa is very interesting but somewhat under studied...

Thanks in advance.



2 African swords, these are the 'blade form' of the usually ceremonial swords called 'hwi' from Dahomey (now Benin) in west Africa coast .
The hilts are more known as a Sierra Leone form which usually had larger broadsword blades (some of kaskara form). Basically these are slave coast swords of mid 19th c. to latter.
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Old 15th August 2017, 03:06 PM   #3
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From what I can find, I think Ibrahiim is on the right lines ... most likely Fon (Dahomey) swords. However the Mende type hilts and "sandwich" style of blade attachment are a bit of a puzzle, as the Mende are about a thousand miles away from the Fon along the coast ??
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Old 15th August 2017, 04:28 PM   #4
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Hi Colin,

when you have "panga na visu", there is on page 40 a Fon sword, very similar from handle and blade form (but here with cut outs) but also with the small "hook" at end of the spine, described as Fon sword called "gubasa".

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Detlef
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Old 15th August 2017, 05:41 PM   #5
Jim McDougall
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I think that in looking at these two 'cutlasses' which are distinctly with the curved 'hook' type tip blades with Dahomean character, and notably incongruent 'Mende' style hilts, we consider the dramatic diffusion knwn in these regions.
The Mende (of Sierra Leone) as well as the well known slave coast 'capital' of Ouidah (in Dahomey, now Benin) were among the littoral of West Africa which comprised this thousand miles of 'slave coast'. This region was still quite active in the mid 1900s, so movement of influences seem reasonable.

It is interesting that the 'sandwich' type element of the blades is a well known element often seen on the blades of West African takouba in Saharan regions, and it has been noted that the Mende hilt style has been known to be mounted with kaskara type blades.

This reflects diffusion of even more dramatic distances, which are well established in trade route networking over considerable periods. Then factor in tribal diffusion, warfare, and even religious influences transmitting these characteristics and feasibility is seen.

These curious blade shapes are indeed representative of Fon type blades of Dahomey, and these are often known as gubasa, but in nearby Ghana similar swords are 'ada', and the Fon were in other contiguous regions as well.

What is most interesting is that these blades are solid, and seemingly of functional character rather than the ceremonially decorated examples of these swords usually well embellished with pierced cutouts and extraneous features atop the blade back etc.
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Old 15th August 2017, 06:29 PM   #6
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I was looking at the Penn museum who write at https://www.penn.museum/collections/object/333303

Quote" See von Luschan, Altertumer von Benin, p. 440, figs. 697a and c, and drawings at end of text volume, E 696 a and c. The sword is of brass, the blade completely covered with ornament, the spaces between the designs being thickly pitted. The hilt is of wood partly covered with thin plates of brass or bronze and with copper (?) wire.''Unquote.

See weapon examples below with Penn Museum weapon in black and white;
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Old 16th August 2017, 12:08 AM   #7
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Perfect example Ibrahiim!!
These with that distinct cross pierced in the blade seem most prolific and if I understand correctly, it is one of the varied symbols which may be connected to the Vodun religion (later Voodoo in Louisiana and Caribbean) of the Fon and Yoruba people among others. As in many ethnographic circumstances this cross symbolizes the four cardinal directions and similar meanings.
Thank you for that cite as well..it really helps to have these additional references to add to the material being reviewed.
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Old 20th August 2017, 12:44 PM   #8
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Thanks to those who have input on these swords so far.

Thinking about them a bit more, I suppose they could have just as well been used by the Mende with influences from Dahomey weapons, as much as the reverse..

On the other hand .. the swords are heavy and robust with sharpened edges. Without being melodramatic, they swing well in the hand particularly with the extra weight towards the blade tip, in fact they seem just right for decapitation purposes ! Seemingly this was regularly done to captives (and criminals) by victorious Dahomey warriors.

Here are some images from the internet, as well as an image of the hilt of a Mende sword I posted a while back, for reference.

If anyone else has more to add about these swords, please do so.
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Old 26th August 2017, 04:49 PM   #9
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Whilst dabbling in African weapons I found this....see https://www.pinterest.com/pin/393009504964550873/
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Old 27th August 2017, 06:56 PM   #10
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Great examples Ibrahiim!
One thing I have been wondering,
That distinct four armed cross pierced into the blade near distal end on many of these.....they seem to correspond to the cross piercing on the Portuguese 15th century+ 'navigator (or 'black') swords of crab claw type in that the qullon discs of these often have such crosses.

Could the Yoruba possibly have incorporated this symbol into their symbolic devices in their religion? The symbol is not necessarily consistant but seems to often occur on Yoruba ceremonial type weapons from areas from Togo, through Benin into Nigeria in variation.
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Old 27th August 2017, 07:55 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Whilst dabbling in African weapons I found this....see https://www.pinterest.com/pin/393009504964550873/


Maybe the Picture was taken by pinterest from this forum ? I bought these three swords in Nigeria - the top one in Lagos. This is very old one, heavy steel blade and I would say fighting weapon (slashing). The handle is made of wood with old iron mountings. The two made of brass are of Yoruba origin, from Ibadan
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Old 27th August 2017, 08:09 PM   #12
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Old 28th August 2017, 10:40 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Lubojacky
Maybe the Picture was taken by pinterest from this forum ? I bought these three swords in Nigeria - the top one in Lagos. This is very old one, heavy steel blade and I would say fighting weapon (slashing). The handle is made of wood with old iron mountings. The two made of brass are of Yoruba origin, from Ibadan



Reference;
A. http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ighlight=Ibadan


Salaams Martin Lubojacky ~ Indeed it seems they are the same picture and as is the Pinterest way they have simply been logged by an algorithm device. Your post directs readers to reference A and whet an excellent reference it is! I should at least try to add a few more pictures if I can find any... Yours seem to be the best .

Wikepedia adds The Ida is a kind of sword used by the Yoruba people of West Africa. It is a long sword with a narrow to wide blade and sheathe. The sword is sharp, and cuts on contact but typically begins to dull if not sharpened regularly. It can be single-edged or double-edged. These blades are typically heavier by the tip of the blade.

During wars, pepper and poison are added to it to paralyze anyone who is cut by the sword. It can be wielded in any way (either one-handed or two-handed). The Yoruba people use this sword for hunting, war and other uses. The blade of the sword is in an elongated leaf-shaped form. It is designed for cutting and hacking.
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Old 28th August 2017, 11:32 AM   #14
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In selecting this line up below there are some I have various questions about which I think I can find answers in due course thus your comments are welcomed.

My immediate reaction is that west African weapons must be related inter tribally as borne out by the similarities in these golock styles...The tendency to call them ceremonial is always there but my thought is that ceremonial may extend at least to executions... which were a sort of ceremonial Indeed if they were only ceremonial why would they poison the blades..Thus I suggest these also were used in battle.

The depiction of a lion is interesting as being the big cat favoured by the tribal kings and not as once suggested as some sort of spin back from the Portuguese influence in the Indian Ocean and copied or taken from Kastane in Ceylon. The sword from http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...68&page=2&pp=30 at #52 is shown below as fig 11 and is clearly a Lion Head but the accompanying literature assumes an Indian Ocean influence which of course it is CERTAINLY not.
In that case it is on a hilt and below it appears on hilts and on the blade in cut out form. It is suggested that in the case of West African designs this is a home grown device.

In looking at the cross geometry + cut into the blade; I include the Black Crab quillons device favoured by the Portuguese shown below but am unable to say if this is co-incidental or copied in regard to the tribal blade. Religion seems a far off indicator and knowing the several uses of the cross format I tend to rule that out; although black magic "as a religion" may rule this straight back in !!

So some artwork~
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Last edited by Ibrahiim al Balooshi : 28th August 2017 at 11:59 AM.
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Old 11th September 2017, 01:11 PM   #15
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Here is one of the swords after cleaning...
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