Ethnographic Arms & Armour
 

Go Back   Ethnographic Arms & Armour > Discussion Forums > Ethnographic Weapons
User Name
Password
FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 14th September 2017, 10:05 AM   #1
Johan van Zyl
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: I live in Gordon's Bay, a village in the Western Cape Province in South Africa.
Posts: 120
Default Owambo knife

Hi fellow forum members

When in December of 1968 I visited the northern areas of the then South West Africa (now Namibia), I purchased this knife from a street vendor. I was very glad to have acquired this, as a remembrance of the month I spent in that region. Now that I have this interest in traditional edged weapons, I look at this knife with new eyes. OK, it is a tourist acquisition, not so? Even in the 1960s, many folk made money out of tourists. I was not a tourist, but these items were easily available to whomsoever wanted to buy.

Total length: 26 cm. Blade length: 18 cm. The rat tail tang runs through the hilt and is peened over at the end.

Now how does one judge the "genuineness" of an item like this one? Please see the pics. The sharp knife is well crafted, and the blade is sturdy (not skimpy) with a definite ridge down the centre. And it has clearly been forged - see the forge/hammer marks.

So the plus points are: (i) It was made in the traditional manner; (ii) It was made by a craftsman of the Owambo people; (iii) It is fully functional - the hilt seems insufficiently short to Western eyes, but it handles effortlessly; (iv) The fit of wood to metal is very good, and the knife goes into the decorated scabbard one way only, which attests to a measure of quality of craftmanship; (v) It has some vintage, as the 1960's is some way back.

The only negative point I can raise, is that it was not made with an Owambo customer in mind, for him to use as is his tradition, but with the express purpose of supplying tourist needs.

So this knife is not a replica (like the katana I once saw, made of aluminium and suitable only as an ornament), but a re-production (my hyphen). All right, all reproductions are replicas (because they replicate the original), but not all replicas are reproductions. I have an Arab jambiya bought at a souk in the United Arab Emirates, and it is horrendous - a replica only! The blade feels like tin plate. But I shoot with a Kentucky muzzle loader bought in 1975, which is a reproduction.

My question is: how high must an item like this Owambo knife be held in our esteem? How do we judge it?

Cheers
Johan
Attached Images
   
Johan van Zyl is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 14th September 2017, 11:35 AM   #2
mariusgmioc
Member
 
mariusgmioc's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Netherlands
Posts: 994
Default

Hello Johan,

I don't see anythig "touristy" in your blade. While I know nothing about this type of knives, yours appears to be a very beautiful and genuine example.

I list here a few points that I associate with "tourist" knives:
1. Blades are flat and flimsy, made of sheet steel or stock;
2. Blades are dull, without a cutting edge;
3. Knives often come lavishly decorated (to catch the eye of the less knowledgeable buyer);
4. Decorations are often in complete discord with the ethnic style of the area where they come from (as the makers are trying to make them more in the taste of the prospective buyer... or what they think is the taste of the prospective buyer);
5. Materials are cheap and workmanship is crude.

None of this applies to your knife which I think would be a good addition to any collection of ethnic weapons.

Moreover, I do not think your knife deserves to be called "reproduction." Why reproduction if it is traditionally made by locals? What would differentiate it from the original? How comes that you are so sure it was specifically made for tourist market?

Regards,

Marius

Last edited by mariusgmioc : 14th September 2017 at 02:32 PM.
mariusgmioc is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 14th September 2017, 04:32 PM   #3
Johan van Zyl
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: I live in Gordon's Bay, a village in the Western Cape Province in South Africa.
Posts: 120
Default

Hello Marius

You make a number of very good points, and I am sure they are all credible. I am grateful that they are favourable to my Owambo knife!

Concerning the knife being a reproduction or not, and in answering your question, I will need to think hard, on how exactly I came about it. We were a group of students completing a working visit, and upon embarking on our return journey by bus, we were approached by a few vendors (I suppose that's what you could call them), who offered us some knives like these, as well as other diverse objects like rattan sieves for the sifting of mahango seeds, carved wooden spoons and carved masks. And there was also a stick with a knife inside, much like a sword cane, which I also purchased. My partners in the group also made a number of purchases. I got the feeling these vendors were used to seeing groups in the region, and, having identified them as eager buyers and a source of income, they eagerly provided their goods for sale. This was in 1968. I truly believe these "traditional" goods are sold there even today. What the Owambo knives sold in this fashion look like today, I do not know.

Perhaps you are correct that they were traditionally made in those days, and therefore not reproductions. Yet what sticks in my mind is that the purpose they were made for even in 1968, more so today, was not the same as what the purpose had been ages ago, before the arrival of frequent European visiting groups. I suppose the craftsmen's mode of operations was to create a deliberate surplus of goods, more than the locals required for themselves.

Now, once they establish a regular trade with visitors and perceive a regular inflow of profit, the "tourist market" gets airborne. And we have seen what happens then: (and here your five well-stated points of deterioration can be inserted). Somewhere in this game, on this timeline, "genuine" and "traditional" becomes "reproduction" and eventually, sadly, becomes "replica".

Marius, thank you for your reassurance that none of this applies to my knife, and that you think it is a good addition to any collection of ethnic weapons.

Johan
Johan van Zyl is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 14th September 2017, 05:08 PM   #4
Bob A
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2014
Posts: 133
Default

Creating a surplus of a marketable object which is in general use in a given population does not render the object a "tourist" piece; it's merely a reasonable response to an income-producing opportunity. Development of a surplus is a healthy sign of a micro-economy, and the basis of civilisation.

The knife in question struck me immediately as a native African piece, and looks to have all the hallmarks of a true ethnographic tool.

The final determinant would be whether you've seen a similar knife in use by the local population; however, not having seen such use does not necessarily indicate that it is not in common use.

Nice knife, by the way.
Bob A is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 14th September 2017, 05:24 PM   #5
CharlesS
Member
 
CharlesS's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Greenville, NC
Posts: 1,514
Default

While without a first-hand look it would be difficult to judge whether or not it is "touristy"...to me it seems to have some age regardless...I must tell you by Ovambo standards the knife is of average craftsmanship at best. Ovambo daggers are always rather simple but can be very elegant in design in both blade and scabbard. This one may well be a "working knife" and does not share the elegance the Ovambo are capable of in their blades.

Please, no offense intended, just an honest observation.

Please see these examples:
Attached Images
  
CharlesS is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 15th September 2017, 12:51 PM   #6
Pieje
Member
 
Pieje's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Belgium
Posts: 103
Default

Good authentic knife, not very old, perhaps 1930-1950
Pieje is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 16th September 2017, 09:50 AM   #7
Johan van Zyl
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: I live in Gordon's Bay, a village in the Western Cape Province in South Africa.
Posts: 120
Default

Pieje, Charles & Bob, many thanks for your comments. Charles, no offense taken - we much prefer HO's, do we not?

Regards
Johan
Johan van Zyl is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 19th September 2017, 12:16 AM   #8
Pieje
Member
 
Pieje's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Belgium
Posts: 103
Default

Charles is right that it isn't a good quality Ovambo knife. Seems to show some signs of use, but will probably be younger than I initially wrote. During the 50s and especially the 60s-70s quality strongly declined.
Pieje is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 19th September 2017, 02:38 AM   #9
Bob A
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2014
Posts: 133
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pieje
Charles is right that it isn't a good quality Ovambo knife. Seems to show some signs of use, but will probably be younger than I initially wrote. During the 50s and especially the 60s-70s quality strongly declined.


I see it as a tool; it's not fancy enough to be a tourist item, IMO.

It might not be pretty, but not everyone needs, or can afford, the top of the line. It may well be the sort of thing that is in regular use, but not seen as worth collecting. Even steel objects can be ephemeral. Preserving the artifacts of the common man is worthwhile, though not glamorous.
Bob A is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 19th September 2017, 05:26 PM   #10
CharlesS
Member
 
CharlesS's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Greenville, NC
Posts: 1,514
Default

I certainly did not intend to imply in my post that the knife was not worth collecting. I don't think any of us gets to judge that. I was merely trying to illustrate a 'range' of Ovambo work.
CharlesS is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump



All times are GMT. The time now is 08:39 PM.


Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.0.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Posts are regarded as being copyrighted by their authors and the act of posting material is deemed to be a granting of an irrevocable nonexclusive license for display here.