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Old 28th February 2016, 12:20 PM   #1
colin henshaw
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Default West African sword for I.D. & comment

Hi

Here is a recent find that may interest forumites. From West Africa, perhaps Mende ? Its quite a substantial sword, blade length is 90cm. The blade needs some light cleaning.

Unusually, the scabbard is not covered in leather, in fact its a sort of painted cloth, probably cotton, over wood. The suspension loops are of padded cloth. It has an iron chape.

Comments on the sword are welcome, and if anyone has references or comparable pieces, do please post them.
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Old 28th February 2016, 02:14 PM   #2
Tim Simmons
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Nice handle and work at the forte. I think this form of handle is found in the Cameroon. I have pictures somewhere will add.
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Old 28th February 2016, 03:21 PM   #3
Martin Lubojacky
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I would shift this style of handle more to the west - to Liberia/Sierra Leone and further ...
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Old 28th February 2016, 03:55 PM   #4
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Yes Sierra Leone, from "African textiles, colour and creativity across a continent, John Gillow, publisher Thames&Hudson 2003" Sorry I got it wrong but have not looked in this book for many years but knew it was there.
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Old 28th February 2016, 04:17 PM   #5
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Martin and Tim have of course correctly IDed the region for this piece. What I wanted to ask Colin, if I'm looking at the photos correctly, the blade is mounted by means of a new forte to the hilt? This would be the first time I have seen this feature in this region, although it is not uncommon in takouba.
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Old 29th February 2016, 02:40 PM   #6
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Thanks to those who have commented on this sword so far.

Iain, with regard to your question... the blade where it approaches the hilt is encased in a metal "sandwich". Here are some close-ups for reference. What do you think about the blade - locally made or imported from Europe ?
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Old 29th February 2016, 03:48 PM   #7
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This sword is really attractive, displaying the kind of rugged charm of these African sword forms. It is indeed from the West African coastal countries and I can recall many years ago, these with similar hilts were sometimes referred to as 'slavers' swords, giving to wondering just how far back the form might have gone.
What is interesting is how often these occur with 'kaskara' type blades, as seem here with one of the typical 'masri' type (three central fuller) and the distinctive dukari moons.

As pointed out by Iain, the 'sandwich' type bolster at the forte is characteristically a Saharan feature seen often on Tuareg takouba, and is often an indicator of an earlier European blade. However, in my view and I hope Iain concurs, this seems a typical native made blade.

The sword overall reflects the often long lives of these blades and how they go through sometimes many incarnations as they travel and change hands through the African tribal interactions and complex trade networks.
The scabbard on this of course reflects distinct Manding type leather work, probably prompting Colin's thoughts toward that source.

Excellent note by Tim on the similarity to the Cameroon swords, also cousins of the takouba and often included in the outstanding research by Iain on these swords over the years!
Great photo too! perfect context.

It has always been interesting to me how far inland the 'geographic' term West Africa actually extends into the Saharan regions, and truly included the trade entrepots as far as Mali and others .

Iain, a question, do the rust stain/spots seen here on this blade have anything to do with possibly galvanic removal during the standard rough sharpening often used on these blades? I often think that use of imported steel with galvanizing might be indicated by this.

Also, do you agree that the extension on the 'sandwich' at the forte is mindful of a vestigial langet reflecting influence of European sabres?
The geometric patterns are intriguing and it would be great to see if possible to align with other material culture motifs.

Pretty exciting sword Colin!!!!
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Old 29th February 2016, 05:52 PM   #8
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Thanks for the images Colin, that's what I suspected it would be. Interesting to see this mount style making it this far into West Africa, it's not a particularly common feature really in swords and the takouba seems to be a pretty unique case of it normally.

Regarding the blade, I agree with Jim, having handle, I guess it's getting up to at least a couple dozen at this point, of this same style and type, I have only found a few I thought were European. This one is of a pattern I recognize and I think is a locally made item from Kano or one of the Hausa states. Exported to a wide region by the Hausa merchant network.

Jim, I don't think the steel was galvanized, particularly as I think these Hausa ones with some ages are likely made from local ore. Once the imported steel was easily at hand you tend to see ground fullers, these look forged to me.

All in all an intriguing and quite unique example!
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Old 1st March 2016, 09:34 AM   #9
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Thanks for the further comments on this sword, glad to see its of interest.

Jim, you've made an astute observation on those "vestigial langets", they had not really registered with me. The possible cross-cultural European influence concept seems quite plausible. It should be borne in mind that Europeans first came into contact with these West African coastal areas as far back as the 15th century... Its quite a long heavy sword with a short grip, I wonder if the "sandwich" area was meant for gripping with the other hand ?

A puzzlement to me is the lack of a protection for the hand on the sword hilt, not even a cross-guard... Does anyone have ideas why this is so ?
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Old 1st March 2016, 03:34 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
...

A puzzlement to me is the lack of a protection for the hand on the sword hilt, not even a cross-guard... Does anyone have ideas why this is so ?


was the sword used with a shield or buckler? using the blade to block cuts from an opponents blade was a no-no in earlier times when steel was not terribly good & crossguards etc. became more necessary when the steel was better and you could be assured the blade would not bend or shatter & thus could be used to parry. some weapons like russian shashka were also not normally used to parry and thus did not need guards which would have interfered with the whirling tornado style they developed for it. it also is unnecessary if you are using it against unarmed opponents, like slaves.
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Old 1st March 2016, 04:44 PM   #11
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Thank you Colin, and I think one of the most fascinating things about ethnographic arms are the cross cultural dynamics and vestigial features and symbolism.
Just as with the adoption by native cultures of the various markings and sometimes inscriptions from variously acquired European arms, typically this has been construed as perhaps somewhat talismanic. This seems particularly the case with the cosmologically themed groupings, which seem to have lent to the well known 'dukari' moons which may likely have begin with Hausa made blades.

While hard features such as a langet as seen here, which obviously could not have had practical application in this particular context, it does seem to carry compelling similarity. Clearly European features such as knuckleguard may have been seen as having the intended use and advantage, but in something like this we can only wonder what the intent might have been.
It is tempting to think of bringing such features into the concept that perhaps they might carry the imbuement of the European quality that seems so often sought after, but such thoughts are almost impossibly subjective ideas

Very good point Kronckew, and while guards seem to have been characteristic of the majority of sword types such as takouba and kaskara, these from West Africa, Camaroon, Manding from Mali and others seem to typically have no guard.
Just as with shashka and of course, the Omani cylindrical hilted sa'if (often termed kattara) there does seem to be the situation where the blade was not used to parry. This is typical of virtually most native swordplay technique, and indeed, the shield or bucker was used in defensive parry.

Good return on the note concerning the slaving topic, and as this unfortunate commerce was prevalent not only obviously in West Africa, but in the East via Zanzibar, and throughout African interior with the trade networks, clearly such 'combat' features would not be required on swords.
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Old 1st March 2016, 08:33 PM   #12
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Default Wonderful thread

Dear Colin,

I can contribute absolutely nothing of worth to your original query, but I have found the sword, and the resulting discourse of great interest.

Many thanks for posting it up, and to everybody else for the enlightening discussion.

Kind regards,

Chris
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Old 1st March 2016, 08:54 PM   #13
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With regards to guards... Swords on the western side of the Sahel and into West Africa don't seem to typically have much of a large guard.

True, older takouba have sturdy box like guards, but these are still relatively narrow and certainly don't afford the hand protection of a kaskara style guard.

Perhaps with these broadswords with the cylindrical hilts, it was simply not a concern. These have always appeared to me in a way to be a natural progression from turned knife handles simply fitted with a bigger blade once those became available.

In any case, I am sure had the users felt a particular need for one there was more than enough exposure to both takouba and European swords on the coast for a native cutler to create one. The only conclusion I can draw is that the lack of a guard indicates the users were not interested in having one, or the tradition of the form was more important. After all the spear and the trade musket dominated warfare.
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Old 1st March 2016, 10:49 PM   #14
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Iain, first of all I neglected to thank you for the comments on the character of the blade and thoughts toward galvanized steel. Your astute analysis on these blades is always outstanding in truly understanding the differences we should be looking for.

Also, excellent thoughts on the guard situation. It does seem that these open hilts would be simpler to produce and in most cases the guard would be unnecessary of course. I have seen some examples of West African/Sahelian swords with European style guards, but they seem far more an anomaly.

Chris, thank you for the very kind comments on the discussion here, and it is nice to have that kind of courteous entry supporting the participants in open examination of a weapon. Much appreciated!
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Old 2nd March 2016, 10:56 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
A puzzlement to me is the lack of a protection for the hand on the sword hilt, not even a cross-guard... Does anyone have ideas why this is so ?


Guards don't come without cost. They can make the sword less convenient to carry, which matters if you wear it every day, but fight with it every few years. Guards can snag on clothing when drawing the sword, snag on your own or your opponent's clothes when fighting, get caught on shields, and offer handles for an opponent to disarm you.

If you fight without a shield, with your weapon arm forward (so your weapon is both your offence and defence), then a guard becomes useful. Even if you don't plan to block with your guard, an opponent's blade can slide down yours into your hand, and stopping that is useful. If you plan to keep your weapon hand behind your shield, block blows with your shield while counter-cutting with your sword to their sword arm, you don't need a guard. (And you don't want a long/bulky guard, since you'd have to move further to get past your own shield.)
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Old 3rd March 2016, 05:43 AM   #16
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Excellent insight Timo, thank you !
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to guards on swords.
I recall the matter of the Royal Scots Greys huge disc hilt swords (M1796) in the British cavalry. The disc caused horrible chafing of the uniform and discomfort, so it was ordered that the inside of the discs be ground off.
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Old 3rd March 2016, 09:44 AM   #17
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...and why a lot of UK army and naval swords had/have a folding guard on the inner side, with a spring loaded catch to hold it in place after drawing, that is frequently missing.
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Old 3rd March 2016, 04:43 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
...and why a lot of UK army and naval swords had/have a folding guard on the inner side, with a spring loaded catch to hold it in place after drawing, that is frequently missing.



Well noted!! It seems those hilts were brought in around mid 19th c.
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Old 5th March 2016, 09:42 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mrcjgscott
Dear Colin,

I can contribute absolutely nothing of worth to your original query, but I have found the sword, and the resulting discourse of great interest.

Many thanks for posting it up, and to everybody else for the enlightening discussion.

Kind regards,

Chris


Hi Chris

Thanks for your courteous comment, glad you find the sword and the post to be of interest.
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Old 5th March 2016, 09:56 AM   #20
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A fair range of ideas regarding the lack of a hand guard from forum members.
For myself, I think the common link (slave trade), with the also guardless Omani/Zanzibar swords (kattara) is telling. Certainly, once slaves were captured, a long sharp sword would be sufficient to control and intimidate, and hand guards superfluous...

Do any forumites have further comments on the intriguing metal "sandwich" at the forte area ? Just to strengthen the assemblage ? outside influences etc ?

Weapons from those West African forested, coastal areas seem fascinating, can anyone recommend suitable references ?
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Old 5th March 2016, 08:21 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Do any forumites have further comments on the intriguing metal "sandwich" at the forte area ? Just to strengthen the assemblage ? outside influences etc ?


In my experience, things like this have one (or maybe 2) of these functions:

(1) It can stiffen the base of the blade. If the base of the blade is very thin, this should be suspected. This might be the case here.

(2) It can be to attach the blade to the hilt. In an extreme case, the blade might have no tang, and be held on by this kind of sandwich. Or, the tang might be glued into or peened or pinned onto the grip, and the sandwich used to secure a guard. Not the case here. More generally, this kind of structural use usually involves rivets through the sandwich, and I don't see any here. So not this.

(3) It can give a secure fit in the scabbard. Since it suddenly increases the thickness at the base of the blade, the scabbard can be made so that the blade has clearance to move freely, except for a tight fit between the sandwich and the scabbard mouth. This tight fit will stop the sword from falling out, and as soon as you get the sandwich out, the rest of the sword comes out easily. The fit at the mouth might not be tight any more, if the scabbard mouth has worn, but if it's a reasonably close fit at the mouth, and the blade moves easily in and out when the sandwich has left the scabbard, this is one function of the sandwich.
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Old 5th March 2016, 09:08 PM   #22
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The use of the sandwich mount in Takouba seems to take place most often with a blade that does not have a sufficient length or tang to achieve the desired length and mount desired.

I'd say this is clear in 80% or so of the swords with this type of mount I've handled. A few, it's not entirely clear if the plates are simply there to re-enforce the base of the blade like the attached (ex my collection).

This particular one has a tang, but this could well be a local addition the blade in order to secure the hilt and not the original.
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Old 5th March 2016, 09:11 PM   #23
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Others, like this mid 14th century blade are a clear case of remounting because of a shortened blade and no tang. In this case a single piece of steel is split to make a new forte and a new tang was part of or attached to that forte.

So, short answer, I think its mainly out of necessity to mount the blade in the absence of a tang.

The closest thing in terms of outside influence I can think of are how some Indian blades are mounted like firangi, with langets extending over the blade. However those, from what I recall are more like extensions from the hilt and quite integral, versus what we see in Colin's piece and my own examples where the new forte or plates do not seem to be directly integral to the hilt.
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Old 5th March 2016, 09:21 PM   #24
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Finally to return to the main topic, I think in Colin's images its quite clear his blade was remounted because of a tang issue or break. The blade clearly terminates before entering the hilt which means the plates were necessary to facilitate a forte and form a tang.

I've attached an image with a little tweaking to hopefully make clear what I mean/see.
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Old 7th March 2016, 02:28 PM   #25
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Thanks to Timo Nieminen and Iain for their informative comments. I think they are probably on the right track. Upon a very close examination of the "sandwich" area, I can just make out three iron rivets, which are smooth with the flat surface of the plates, and cannot be seen on the images.

The only references to these swords I can find, is the book by District Commissioner T J Alldridge "The Sherbro and its Hinterland", 1901 Here are a few relevant extracts.
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Old 8th March 2016, 06:43 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Thanks to Timo Nieminen and Iain for their informative comments. I think they are probably on the right track. Upon a very close examination of the "sandwich" area, I can just make out three iron rivets, which are smooth with the flat surface of the plates, and cannot be seen on the images.

The only references to these swords I can find, is the book by District Commissioner T J Alldridge "The Sherbro and its Hinterland", 1901 Here are a few relevant extracts.



Hi Colin,

I thought there might be rivets but couldn't tell from the photos. So looks like a case of reusing an older blade. Very neat!

Thanks for posting the book extracts, I haven't spent any significant time studying this specific type, but I don't recall coming across many photos or period sources describing them. So very valuable to get a photo and and some descriptive detail from Alldridge!
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Old 22nd May 2016, 06:41 PM   #27
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Default ADABAL...THE APPARENT STRENGTHENING WRAP OR CUFF.

THIS IS THE Adabel envelope or cuff wrap which Jim McDougall was mentioning...at http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ighlight=adabal

One reference I was chasing in a Hausa dictionary appeared to describe adabal as the hand being hot but stronger and not being broken... words to that effect... suggesting a reinforced banding or wrap.

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Old 26th May 2016, 09:06 PM   #28
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Coming to terms with the varied family of related swords is best achieved by starting with the essay and fine detail at http://iainnorman.com/
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