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Old 30th October 2013, 06:35 PM   #1
nKante
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Default iron cuirass

I have always been interested in this West African cuirass. I have seen a few illustrations of them, and photos of 3 different pieces. Conrad Cairns briefly mentions this kind of defense in his book 'The African Knights'. Most of what I have seen is either padded garments, chain mail, or the combination of them both. My question is, were they worn on the outside of the padded garment or underneath. Outside would have provided cushion from the heavy iron against the skin. But I think the big iron plate would heat up rather quick in the African sun. I have looking through a lot of early photos of Sudanic warriors. I came across 2 that might show metal plates.
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Old 31st October 2013, 10:33 AM   #2
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Sadly, a few years ago when one of these was on the market I did not purchase it. I have been kicking myself ever since.

These are associated with Bornu, Denham illustrated one as I recall.

I'd be interested to see the couple of photos you mentioned. It's an intriguing question. I'll have a look through my files and see if I can turn anything up.
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Old 31st October 2013, 05:53 PM   #3
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Now remember I said 'might' be an iron plate. To my eye, the dark area around the one warrior's torso seems to be an armored belly band. It could be part of the pattern on the robe, but I think I see a shadow underneath. It could be wishful thinking, but the shape, shadow and edging make me think that it is a separate rigid object and not fabric like his partners.
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Old 31st October 2013, 07:17 PM   #4
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Certainly possible, but as you say, hard to see in that particular image. At a guess, it's actually leather banded armour (kutufi). Although your image depicts Sudanese rather than Bornu or western Sahel troops I'm more familiar with.

My own personal opinion, and this only applies for the actual cuirass you posted, is that it was worn under the lifida, as was maille.

The lifida itself is not a single element. But can be made up of several garments. Usually these consist of at least the long out jacket (bantan lifidi) and a wide band around the waist (the kumakumi).

Underneath additional padding could be worn as well. The main purpose was defense against arrows, which were typically poisoned.
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Old 31st October 2013, 10:28 PM   #5
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Ok! It would make sense to wear the cuirass over a padded under garment, and under a padded over garment. And after I looked again you are correct, they are Sudanese warriors. Know I have to reseach kutufi armor.

Thanks Ian

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Old 1st November 2013, 10:07 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nKante
Ok! It would make sense to wear the cuirass over a padded under garment, and under a padded over garment. And after I looked again you are correct, they are Sudanese warriors. Know I have to reseach kutufi armor.

Thanks Ian


No problem, just a note though on the terminology, what I listed above is Hausa, in a Sudanese context it will be something else.
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Old 8th November 2013, 08:50 AM   #7
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Just to add a little more photographic material here, I'm not necessarily right about maille under the lifida. It's not always easy to determine if maille wearers are also wearing full lifida.

But here's at least one case of maille over what looks like quite a lot of bulky cloth. Still, I don't see the full quilted garment here.
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Old 8th November 2013, 09:14 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Just to add a little more photographic material here, I'm not necessarily right about maille under the lifida. It's not always easy to determine if maille wearers are also wearing full lifida.

But here's at least one case of maille over what looks like quite a lot of bulky cloth. Still, I don't see the full quilted garment here.


Great image Iain. He won't run out of weapons in a hurry !
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Old 8th November 2013, 09:31 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Great image Iain. He won't run out of weapons in a hurry !


Thanks Colin, he's a chief from Foumban in Cameroon. With the number of knives he's packing, makes you wonder if these were thrown?
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Old 11th November 2013, 07:57 PM   #10
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Wow! That is an awesome pic. I would think that many daggers would be used as missiles. I wonder how his sleeves behave if they are for throwing!? By the way it gathers at his neck it looks like the chain shirt has a hood. Plus I think I see rings going up the side of his face. Thanx!
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Old 11th November 2013, 09:22 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nKante
Wow! That is an awesome pic. I would think that many daggers would be used as missiles. I wonder how his sleeves behave if they are for throwing!? By the way it gathers at his neck it looks like the chain shirt has a hood. Plus I think I see rings going up the side of his face. Thanx!


Yes I would agree, that's a hood. I've attached an image showing a similar maille set.
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Old 14th November 2013, 11:47 PM   #12
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His chain is definitely over some thick garment.
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Old 15th November 2013, 07:20 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nKante
His chain is definitely over some thick garment.


Yes the maille is certainly over thick cloth, the question is, is it actually lifida? Hard to tell really.
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Old 16th November 2013, 12:09 AM   #14
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This is my take on the piece. I still have to attach the shoulder straps and edge it with leather. I made it out of aluminum, not iron. I plan to put a nice dark patina on it when it is completed. I changed the design a little from the originals. I decided to leave both side open, so as not to compromise the aluminum by repeated opening and closing. I made it for an internet friend who practices traditional African martial arts at his studio in Texas. He is carving me two wooden swords from Benin.
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Old 19th November 2013, 09:32 AM   #15
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Here is an image of a postcard issued by the excellent Powell-Cotton Museum, Birchington, Kent that may interest...
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Old 22nd November 2013, 07:51 PM   #16
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Awesome. Thank you!
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Old 5th May 2014, 06:34 PM   #17
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OK. Finally finished it. I took some liberties with it but I am very pleased with the overall product. I used street sign aluminum in place of iron plates. I replaced the iron rivets with brass screws peened over square nuts, which I think gives it visual weight. I made a set of rigid shoulder straps but they were very uncomfortable to move in. I tried a few things, including chains, but I settled on rawhide straps with attached plates. The worst part was sewing the edging on, which is made of strips I cut from a West African mud clothe I had. The pictures don't show but there are 2 set of 8 grommets on the top of the front plate. Since I was unable to physically measure the person that I made the armor for, I wanted some adjustability when attaching the shoulder straps. That is also the reason I decided to open both sides. I tucked a strip of the mud clothe into the bindings of the shoulder plate to give it some padding.
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Old 5th May 2014, 07:02 PM   #18
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I'm glad to see this thread coming back to life.

The finished product, if not exactly like the originals, is an interesting take on a little known subject and a visually pleasing result.

I am adding here a couple more originals. One that was on auction some years ago, another from the MET.

In the next post I will add some interesting text from Robinson's "Oriental Armour".
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Old 5th May 2014, 07:06 PM   #19
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The book excerpt. It deals in part with an earlier topic on this thread of mail over or under cloth components.
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Old 6th May 2014, 06:50 PM   #20
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I came across this reference last year:
MacLeod, O., 1912 Chiefs and Cities of Central Africa. Across Lake Chad by way of British, French, and German territories. Pp 14 + 322. Edinburgh & London: Blackwood & sons.

A ‘Native-made iron cuirass” is illustrated on p.269, in a section describing the visit to the town of Fika (northern Nigeria) during March 1911. The armour is not described, only figured. Apparently, this piece of armour, together with a hide cuirass from Musgum collected during the same voyage, is in the Pitt Rivers museum.
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Old 7th May 2014, 08:07 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LJ
I came across this reference last year:
MacLeod, O., 1912 Chiefs and Cities of Central Africa. Across Lake Chad by way of British, French, and German territories. Pp 14 + 322. Edinburgh & London: Blackwood & sons.

A ‘Native-made iron cuirass” is illustrated on p.269, in a section describing the visit to the town of Fika (northern Nigeria) during March 1911. The armour is not described, only figured. Apparently, this piece of armour, together with a hide cuirass from Musgum collected during the same voyage, is in the Pitt Rivers museum.


The image in the first post of this thread is the Pitt Rivers example.

I'm attaching some additional views of another museum example, can't recall off the top of my head which one! But it shows the full construction nicely.
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Old 7th May 2014, 10:39 PM   #22
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WOW. Those art the best pictures I have ever seen of one. Some of those long, 'nail' looking rivets are just plain scary.
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Old 8th May 2014, 08:44 AM   #23
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They are a serious piece of kit and quite effective I'd imagine combined with the quilted armour. Couple this with a lance and a hefty takouba and you've got a picture quite a bit different than what most people would expect to find south of the Sahara.
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Old 10th June 2014, 07:57 PM   #24
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Figured I post myself wearing it with the rest of my panoply.
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Old 11th June 2014, 01:06 PM   #25
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nKante, what a warrior you have reconstructed?
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Old 11th June 2014, 07:20 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Just to add a little more photographic material here, I'm not necessarily right about maille under the lifida. It's not always easy to determine if maille wearers are also wearing full lifida.

But here's at least one case of maille over what looks like quite a lot of bulky cloth. Still, I don't see the full quilted garment here.



This is the image description. "Bamum chief, in Cameroon, Portrait of a Bamum chief of Foumban", Postcard of the Société des missions évangéliques de Paris (Paris evangelical missionary society). 1910/1920
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Old 3rd October 2014, 06:52 PM   #27
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I found what I believe to be an illustrated photo showing a warrior wearing an iron cuirass under his robes. The saddle horn, helmet and circle designs of the horses armor remind me of the set up in Colin's picture.

A Fulbe warrior wearing a much embellished iron helmet (the plates visible just above his right ear) and iron chest armor (plates visible just beneath his right forearm) beneath his robe; the horse wears quilted armor. The object topping his helmet might have been intended to hold feathers.
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Old 3rd October 2014, 07:45 PM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
I'm attaching some additional views of another museum example, can't recall off the top of my head which one! But it shows the full construction nicely.


The images are from The British Museum.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/resear...objectid=621141
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Old 10th February 2015, 05:27 AM   #29
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I just realized I have an incredibly clear image of one of these cuirass being worn from 1905 I never posted. It is from northern Cameroon.
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Old 17th February 2015, 11:22 PM   #30
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NICE. I love the high collar on the quilted robe. This might be my new profile picture.
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