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Old 8th May 2020, 03:08 PM   #1
Yvain
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Default Some observations about the so called Guduf swords

Recently, I took an interest in those strange swords from the North Cameroon. As you might know, information is scarce about them, and the only references I found regarding their origin were on this forum (mainly, Iain Norman citing Renate Wente-Lukas).


Those references place the origin of those swords in the Mandara mountains, in the Far North Region of Cameroon, among the elusive Guduf ethnic group.


Indeed, information regarding the Guduf is scarce, at least on the Internet, though we can cite the “mandaras.info” website (https://www.mandaras.info/Guduf.html), and an useful map on “sukur.info” (http://sukur.info/Mont/montindex.htm , see below map 1). Those two resources seem to accord on the location of this ethnic group : far north of the Mandara mountain along the Nigerian – Cameroonian border, just East of Gwoza.


Now, here is where things get interesting. While I was perusing the Quai Branly photographic archives, I was unable to find any of those swords, until I extended my research to all of Cameroon, and not just the Guduf or even Mandara mountains. I then found some really interesting and old (1930’s) pictures of those swords being carried, the only problem being that the people carrying those swords were not Guduf, and were not even from the Mandara region.


In fact, all the pictures I found were taken in the “lamidat” of Rey-Bouba, in the North Region of Cameroon, near lake Lagdo, almost 300km away from Gwoza.


Photograph 1 and details shot : “Celebration for the end of Ramadan”; North Cameroon, Rey-Bouba; 1932. http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/explore...amadan/page/40/

Photograph 2 and details shot : “The “Lamido” of Rey-Bouba”; North Cameroon, Rey-Bouba; 1933. http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/explore...-bouba/page/17/



Photograph 3 and details shot : “A soldier of the “Lamido” of Rey-Bouba”; North Cameroon, Rey-Bouba; 1933. http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/explore...-bouba/page/17/


Photograph 4 and details shot: “Simulated fights”; North Cameroon, Rey-Bouba; 1932. http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/explore...combats/page/2/


Now, if we try to interpret those pictures, we can make a few observations. In the second picture, the men carrying the Lamido (ruler of the lamidat) are described as “eunuchs” (even if some slaves were indeed castrated in the Fulbe lamidats, I have no idea if this statement is correct in this particular instance), and are most likely of servile condition, considering their role and clothing.


In the third picture, the men, including the one carrying one of the swords discussed here, are described as “kirdi” porters. The derogatory term “kirdi” is used by the muslim Fulbe in North Cameroon to described a variety of pagan ethnic groups. In the context of the muslim lamidat of Rey-Bouba, those kirdi are most likely slaves too, their clothing being, again, an additional sign of their condition.


Finally, the warriors pictured in the fourth picture are described as kirdi too.


While it might be weird to see men that are most likely slaves carrying arms, this starts to make more sense once we take a closer look at the social structure of the lamidat of Rey-Bouba.


The lamidat of Rey-Bouba is a traditional chieftaincy located in a Fulbe territory, and is still effectively an independent tribal state functioning inside the cameroonian state. In this system, the Lamido (chieftain) can’t apprehend, imprison, or punish his fellow Fulbe, and must thus rely on the “dogaris”. (See : ISSA SA ÏBOU, “Paroles d’esclaves au Nord-Cameroun” in Cahier d’études africaines, Esclavage moderne ou modernité de l’esclavage ? pp. 853 – 877, 2005).


The “dogaris” are technically “maccube” (slaves), but they have a very peculiar role and status in the functioning of the lamidat. Indeed, the dogaris aren’t Fulbe, they are slaves taken from the nearby kirdi tribes, and can thus serve the Lamido as warrior slaves, being the armed wing of his power since they don’t have to submit to the rules regarding Fulbe on Fulbe violence (Issa Sa Ïbou, ibid.).


With those information, we can submit the theory that the men carrying the swords we’re discussing, are indeed dogaris, which in turns raise the question : “where are those dogaris from ?” Indeed, kirdi is a vague derogatory term, that does not refer to a particular ethnic group.


Jean-Claude Muller, in Les chefferies Dìì de l’Adamamoua (2006), might help us to formulate a hypothesis. Indeed, in a passage regarding the history of the Dìì ethnic group, Muller point out that the lamidat of Ngaoundéré and Rey-Bouba used men from various Dìì subgroups (notably the Dìì mam nà’a) to raid and enslave the nearby Laka and Gbaya (p.18); the Dìì mam nà’a territory being located just below the lamidat of Rey-Bouba (see map 2, extracted from ibid.). We also learn from the same source that most Dìì under the rule of the lamidat of Rey-Bouba converted to islam really late, after 1965, and were thus seen as kirdi by the Fulbe. According to Jean-Claude Muller (“« Merci à vous, les Blancs, de nous avoir libérés ! »Le cas des Dìì de l'Adamaoua (Nord-Cameroun)” in Terrain, Miroirs du colonialisme, 1997), the Dìì where even dissuaded by the Lamido from converting to islam, most likely because the lamidat needed a stock of kirdi slaves and dogaris.


Although a large part of the Dìì communities fled the lamidat of Rey-Bouba at the end of the XIXth century, to escape its influence, it is possible to assume that some of the dogaris from the 1930’s still were originating from this group, as some communities from the Dìì mam nà’a sub-group still lived under the rule of the lamidat of Rey-Bouba during the XXth century (see : OLIVIER LANGLOIS, INNOCENT ABDOUL SARDI, “La circulation du fer depuis le pays dìì au début du XXème siècle: systèmes techniques, organisations socio-économiques et réseaux d’échanges”, in Les échanges et la communication dans le bassin du lac Tchad, pp. 133 – 159, 2014).


Interestingly, the Dìì mam nà’a were also renowned blacksmith in the area (Langlois and Abdoul Sardi, ibid.), and it seems like Rey-Bouba was an export center for the forged articles for the “naŋ, the blacksmiths of the Dìì mam nà’a (see map 3, extracted from ibid.). We can thus speculate that the swords we’re discussing here might have been produced by the Dìì naŋ.


Furthermore, this theory is supported by the fact that one of our “Guduf type” sword is actually preserved in the Quai Branly collections (http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/explore...ourreau/page/1/). This sword, pictured below, is really similar to the type we’re discussing, but was collected in Rey-Bouba in 1931, and is described as “Duru blacksmith work”, a significant information, since “Duru” is one of the various names used to refer to the Dìì ethnic group.


With those information, we can hypothesize that the men carrying the swords discussed here (in the pictures described above), might indeed be dogaris, originating from the Dìì ethnic group, or, at the very least, that those swords were produced by the naŋ from the Dìì mam nà’a sub-group.


Now, I’m not saying that Wente-Lukas was wrong, and that those swords weren’t used by the Guduf (even more so considering that the Dìì forged articles were exported up to Nigeria, according to Langlois and Abdoul Sardi). But it seems, at least, that they weren’t the only group to use them, and that we might have to expand the scope of the ethnic groups using this kind of swords. I sadly wasn’t able to find the work of Wente-Lukas online (but I would love to !), and thus don’t know how he came to the conclusion that those swords were unique to the Guduf, but let’s not forget that blades do travel in Africa, as proof, this sword : http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/explore...ourreau/page/7/ pertaining to the type we’re discussing, that was somehow collected in Foumban in 1932, more than 475km away from Rey-Bouba, and more than 650km from Gwoza !


Anyway, I hope this will lead to some interesting discussions, and I apologize in advance for any over-simplification, as I’m no ethnographer, and only started looking into this very recently !


(And sorry for my English, not my native language !)
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Old 8th May 2020, 11:06 PM   #2
Edster
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Yvain,

I was totally ignorant of Guduf swords and their social context. You provided an interesting and informative analysis. A couple of our forum members have/had such swords and offer more details in this 2011 post.

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=14062

No need to apologise for your English. It is my mother tongue, and I could not have done better.

Regards,
Ed

Last edited by Edster : 9th May 2020 at 12:34 AM.
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Old 9th May 2020, 07:53 AM   #3
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Thank you for your kind words Edster, I always feel like my English gets worse the longer I write

Thanks for linking Iain post, it is indeed one of the few places I had seen this type of swords dicussed before, when I started researching them.

Interesting to note that this type was attributed to the indefinite "kirdi" group before the Guduf attribution was proposed.

We can also link this conversation : http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...highlight=Guduf, in which one of those swords was initially described as "Fulbe" (which would make sense, as it seems like they were used in Fulbe communities), and was collected in Cameroon near the Central African Republic.
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Old 9th May 2020, 11:09 AM   #4
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Thanks for your information and pics! That is one of the most elegant of African swords in my opinion.
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Old 9th May 2020, 06:25 PM   #5
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Excellent write up! I have always been interested in the history and development of these swords, particularly with regard to their hypothetical ancestral (or derived) relationship to the more well known takouba. It would be interesting to know more about why these swords are associated with the Guduf given the diversity in the region and the historical context you provided.

- ADS

Last edited by Araña_del_Sol : 10th May 2020 at 03:13 AM. Reason: grammatical error
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Old 10th May 2020, 12:25 PM   #6
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Thanks ! Regarding the takouba, it's interesting to note that we can see some in the pictures above, carried alongside Dìì swords.

As for the link between this type of swords and the Guduf, I guess the answer would be in the work of Wente-Lukas, but I sadly can't find it.
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Old 10th May 2020, 12:45 PM   #7
Martin Lubojacky
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Thank you very much for this very interesting and nicely written essay and shearing your knowledge !

I don´t have anything to add, and, unfortunately, I also don´t have this kind of sword. I hope you wouldn´t mind if I post here picture of some another blades collected in north Nigeria/Cameroon borderland.
Martin
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Old 10th May 2020, 10:31 PM   #8
Yvain
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You're welcome Martin, my pleasure !

That's quite the selection you have here, I really like the Chamba (?) and takouba like ones !
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Old 11th May 2020, 02:39 PM   #9
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Here is a delightfully colorful example with a typical blade with quite deeply cut fullers on one side, but with mounts retaining many takouba features:
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Old 12th May 2020, 08:48 AM   #10
Yvain
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Thanks Lee, that's an amazing specimen you got there ! Really interesting to see this kind of hybrid type existed
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