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Old 22nd May 2020, 04:15 PM   #1
Yvain
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Default An Haussa takouba

I was trying to get this amazing Haussa takouba in a recent auction, but sadly the bids went too high for my young museum worker wallet

Well, I still have the pictures to console myself, and I thought I could share them with you, now that the auction is over.


It was described as a "touareg saber [sic]" in the auction, but I think we will agree that it is actually a very nice XIXth (second part ?) century Haussa takouba. I think the blade was locally made and exhibit some really interesting forging flaws/delamination, that could suggest forge welded edges (I don't really know how to say that in English, hope it's understandable ...).
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Old 23rd May 2020, 08:24 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvain
I was trying to get this amazing Haussa takouba in a recent auction, but sadly the bids went too high for my young museum worker wallet

Well, I still have the pictures to console myself, and I thought I could share them with you, now that the auction is over.


It was described as a "touareg saber [sic]" in the auction, but I think we will agree that it is actually a very nice XIXth (second part ?) century Haussa takouba. I think the blade was locally made and exhibit some really interesting forging flaws/delamination, that could suggest forge welded edges (I don't really know how to say that in English, hope it's understandable ...).


Hello Yvain,

Where are our takouba experts?

What make it Haussa? The pommel style? I ask because I want to learn.

I think what you mean is inserted edge but I am not sure, it's only a sign of welding what I see in the pictures.

Regards,
Detlef
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Old 23rd May 2020, 10:07 AM   #3
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Hi Detlef,

This type of "brazil nut" pommel can be found on takouba from various ethnic groups, but is an older style (pre XXth century).

Determining where a takouba was made is, in my opinion, always a game of guesses. Some details lead me to think it is an Haussa work, but I could be wrong.


It seems to me that this kind of big boxy guard, with engraved decorations and tin (?) wash is more usually associated with the Haussa (Tuareg ones, for example, are usually slimmer, with a different shape). (See this one for example : http://takouba.org/catalog/index.php/takouba-109)

Locally made blade that are on the larger side usually seems to be Haussa, like this one. (See here : http://takouba.org/catalog/index.ph...ausa-people/132)

The type of mounts on the scabbard is also usual for this group, with some really long mounts (the type of decoration and the tooling on the leather kind of looks like Haussa to me too). (Again, example here : http://takouba.org/catalog/index.ph...ausa-people/132)

Those are some of the hints (but also the general look of the sword), that makes me think it could be Haussa, but again, it's hard to be absolutely sure, and I could be wrong !

Regarding the edges, I meant to say "tranchants rapportés", but I don't really know how to translate it to English, so periphrase, here I go ! The forging flaws following the edges of the blade almost make me believe that it could have been made using three metal rods (two hard for the edges,one soft for the core) that would have been forge welded before shapping the blade itself, like it was done on some medieval swords. Although, I have very little knowledge about african metallurgy and don't know if they used (or even materially could use) this technique.
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Old 23rd May 2020, 11:06 AM   #4
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Hi Yvain,

Thank you for your explanation!

And looking again to the pictures from the blade, you could very well be correct, it look like this.

Regards,
Detlef
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Old 23rd May 2020, 06:39 PM   #5
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You're welcome Detlef,

I've started studying the subject some months ago, and I find those swords fascinating, guess I'm part of the takouba fan club now !

I would have been really interested to examine the blade up close, as I have the suspiscion it would have given us a lot of interesting information regarding bladesmithing in the area, but I guess I will have to wait it to go on the market again eventually
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Old 24th May 2020, 05:51 PM   #6
Martin Lubojacky
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I also think that the ornament extruded in the skin (small triangles in the rows) indicatecsa "Nigerian" origin of the scabbard. (I hope that Iain as expert will add his comment)
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Old 25th May 2020, 04:04 PM   #7
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Yvain,

While the pommel looks old, the rest of the fittings do not seem to match it in age. Nice takouba, but I do not think you missed out on something unique and amazing.

Teodor
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Old 25th May 2020, 06:17 PM   #8
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Hi Theodor,

What makes you think that ? It was most likely cleaned indeed, hence the "new and shiny" look of the brass, but otherwise it is stylistically similar to known example from the end of the XIXth / very early XXth century, while more recent takouba (post 1940 / 50) have a really distinct style.

The pommel and the blade could indeed be older, but I don't think the rest of the fittings are that recent either.

(And I do understand it wasn't really unique, but to me it was a really appealing, harmonious, sword; perhaps because I practice HEMA, and appreciate how effective or balanced a weapon might look )

EDIT : I also have seen takouba where the pommel was treated (maybe oil blackened) to give it a darker finish than the rest of the hilt, which could be the case here.
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Old 25th May 2020, 11:18 PM   #9
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Apart from lacking patina, the fittings seem off compared to fittings on older takouba. I believe the sword in this thread is a 19th century blade and pommel, with the hilt and scabbard restored more recently in an attempt to emulate older work, but as usual, it is impossible for modern craftsmen to get it perfectly right, unless they are extremely specialized in antique weapons such as Phillip Tom for example. I can guarantee you that 19th century leather from the Sahel would not look this well preserved either.

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Old 26th May 2020, 12:31 AM   #10
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Interesting, what date would you attribute to the fittings and scabbard ? And why do you think someone would try to emulate older style takouba ? That would be the first one I see one trying to look older than it is
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Old 26th May 2020, 03:08 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvain
Interesting, what date would you attribute to the fittings and scabbard ? And why do you think someone would try to emulate older style takouba ? That would be the first one I see one trying to look older than it is


Since takoubas are still in use, not as weapons but more as part of male attire, in certain parts of the Sahel, it may have been refitted for someone to wear. Or alternatively, it may have been refitted to make it more appealing to someone looking for a souvenir. Only whoever did it knows for certain.

My guess for the age of the scabbard and fittings is the last few decades.
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Old 26th May 2020, 07:49 AM   #12
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Yes, takoubas are in use - as a part of national costume.... The scabbard itself, the leather part, is "old". I think I can say this as I saw production of "new" scabbards in that region ago.

Re. the fittings I donīt know.

But it is questionable, as far as African artefacts generally are concerned, what to consider "old" and what is "new". You cannot compare it with European antiquities. Old in Africa (from collectorīs point of view) means decades. If it is more then hundred years, it is nearly a rarity. If they get used to something nice/old and they donīt wont to get rid of it, they donīt hesitate to repair this nice "old thing" (e.g. coming from fifties) with plasitc in seventies and the museum takes it as an artefact documenting tribal life in 2020.
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Old 26th May 2020, 08:11 PM   #13
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I very much agree with Teodor and as Martin has well put, the connotation of 'old' is quite broadly interpreted and generally is just decades as noted.
The thing to consider with these weapons of North Africa, especially the takouba, is that they are highly commercialized as souvenirs in the well developed markets of tourism and business.

These swords, while considered regular tribal accouterments still in modern times, like many ethnographic contexts, they are worn knowing they will likely be sold to visitors seeking souvenirs. These then are simply replaced until again sold.

Takouba were typically constantly remounted and with new components especially as they changed hands. This is why so many extremely old blades were once found in them, some hundreds of years old.

In this example the blade is clearly native made, and as noted, likely late 19th c. to early 20th, copying the early 'masri' blades which were indeed made by Hausa smiths. Interestingly this blade does not have the 'dukari' (half moons) characteristic of these blades.

Also, as noted, the brass mounts on this are simply pierced, not tooled,and seem quite modern, contrary to early mounts, which even cleaned carry the character of age in various ways.

Obviously, as with most ethnographic weapons, traditional styles are maintained not only for generations, but many centuries. That is why modern versions of these weapons are produced, and souvenir hunters seek them as similar to those seen in collections etc.

There are some takouba which are genuine heirlooms which many Tuareg, especially elders, will NOT part with. These are the ones which invariably seem to have VERY old blades and sometimes mounts......but the leather almost never is old.............in the Sahara, not too durable.
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Old 27th May 2020, 05:12 PM   #14
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This as evolved into a very interesting conversation thanks to you all ! I thought that modern takouba where almost always of "modern" style, and had never seen before an attempt at emulating an older style.

It seems to me that modern (post-WW2) tuareg takouba are very distinct from the older ones, so is the imitation of an older style specifically an Hausa practice or is there also fairly recent tuareg takouba made in the older style ?

Also, I understand that the pommel and blade on the one I posted are older, but do you think that the new fittings and scabbard were created to be used in situ, or to sell it to visitors ?

Sorry for all the questions, but I really like this type of swords and would love to learn as much as possible about them !

Regarding the blade, it seems like the absence of dukari marks does happen from time to time on wide Hausa blades (for example : http://takouba.org/catalog/index.ph...ausa-people/132), if I had to hazard a guess, maybe it could be because those blades didn't "pretend" to be of european origin ? (I think I remember reading that the half moon mark was originally stamped on blades by European makers, and was later copied by local smiths to suggest the same quality for their production, but I'm not sure ...)

Finally, while I'm still somewhat sad I didn't get this sword (I still really love the general look of it), I'm glad I didn't overspent on it, thanks for making me feel better about it
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Old 29th May 2020, 03:54 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvain
This as evolved into a very interesting conversation thanks to you all ! I thought that modern takouba where almost always of "modern" style, and had never seen before an attempt at emulating an older style.

It seems to me that modern (post-WW2) tuareg takouba are very distinct from the older ones, so is the imitation of an older style specifically an Hausa practice or is there also fairly recent tuareg takouba made in the older style ?

Also, I understand that the pommel and blade on the one I posted are older, but do you think that the new fittings and scabbard were created to be used in situ, or to sell it to visitors ?

Sorry for all the questions, but I really like this type of swords and would love to learn as much as possible about them !

Regarding the blade, it seems like the absence of dukari marks does happen from time to time on wide Hausa blades (for example : http://takouba.org/catalog/index.ph...ausa-people/132), if I had to hazard a guess, maybe it could be because those blades didn't "pretend" to be of european origin ? (I think I remember reading that the half moon mark was originally stamped on blades by European makers, and was later copied by local smiths to suggest the same quality for their production, but I'm not sure ...)

Finally, while I'm still somewhat sad I didn't get this sword (I still really love the general look of it), I'm glad I didn't overspent on it, thanks for making me feel better about it




Dont feel too bad, there are a good number of takouba available occasionally and for reasonable prices, as well as often being of varying age and quality.

As you have found, one of the very best resources on takouba, in my opinion, is the "Takouba Research Society" site, headed by Iain Norman.
I would add here what I know of takouba (as I recall from previous study).

The Hausa, while a tribal group, are most well known for thier fashioning of Saharan blades used in takouba and the mounts of takouba are not necessarily confined to a single tribal fashion. Typically thier blades are marked with the dual pairs of crescent moons, known as 'dukari'. It is unclear as far as I know exactly when the native use of these marks began, and while tempting to attribute thier application as in imitation of these double moons on European blades traded into the Saharan sphere, it is not certain that is the case. It may simply be a doubling of the single crescent moon more commonly seen in European blade cosmological motif.
While double moons are occasionally seen on some European blades, it does not seem to me that there were enough of them to present the influence suggested to cause the nearly invariable use of 'dukari' on Saharan blades.
Briggs (1965) suggested that no European blade he was aware of had these dual moons, and his study of European blades in Tuareg swords has stood as a valuable resource since.

As with most situations, it is of course possible some blades may not have 'dukari' and we know that many early examples were stamped, while others were engraved, often in notable deviation in quality.

The very wide blades referred to as far as I recall, were not Hausa, but usually from other groups further west such as Mossi and others in Mali and other regions where the blade size seems significant with regard to status or station. Some of these reach proportions that would preclude any combat potential. Actually the takouba itself is more a traditional item of dress than actual weapon in modern times of course.

While the presumption that markings on these blades are intended to represent quality, actually it is more related to the folk religion and superstitions/traditions of these tribes, and has to do more with 'magic' imbuement in the blade.
Although European blades were desirable, it was more that they were 'available' and certain markings more aligned with symbolism in place with these beliefs.
Markings seen as one thing in a makers mark, were seen as something altogether different by natives, for example, a cross and orb on German blade was seen as a drum and sticks (a signal of rank tribally).

Naturally these swords are remounted regularly through generations.
Even the more modern examples stand as examples of the ethnographic cultural icons of these tribes. So it is with the collecting and study of these kinds of arms.

Last edited by Jim McDougall : 29th May 2020 at 04:14 AM.
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