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Old 14th February 2012, 09:34 PM   #1
Mauro
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Default Takouba: European or African copied blade ??

here is a takouba I bought some time ago. It s a classic one probably made 50-60 years ago but the blade seems much older. In fact it has a series of designs similar to that reported in Cabott Briggs (1965). It has an "arm with a sword among the clouds" and below a sun and a moon with stars. The blade has been shortened and in fact the moon is only partially visible. The rest is hide under the guard and possibly cut off. Cabott Briggs attributed similar decorations, found in takouba and kaskaras, to the XVI-XVII century usually to German sword makers. However many authors claimed that the tuareg blacksmith considered these symbols as a talisman and copied them in more recent blades. The blades that were decorated with these symbols coming from Europe were also considered of good quality and therefore easily sold for higher prices. Is there any way to establish if the blade is original from the XVI-XVII century? Is the form of the blade found in XVI-XVII century blades. I think that the "arm with the swords" and the other symbols are very well made and could be original but I would like to have your comments.
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Old 15th February 2012, 04:45 AM   #2
Jim McDougall
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Hi Mauro,
Its always exciting to see examples of takouba and kaskara with these interesting blades, and it truly is a challenge trying to assess whether or not the blades are European trade blades or produced by the skilled smiths in these regions.
This does appear to be a considerably old blade, and has clearly endured generations of remounting, sharpening and reprofiling, but the markings seem to have remained remarkably discernable.

Actually the arm brandishing a sword from ethereal clouds is quite similar to the example shown in Briggs (XIX, E, p.82-83) and described as one of several seen by Henri Lhote near Agades in 1949. One of these had an oriental scimitar, while this had the European type sword. The distinctive spiraled motif for the clouds is apparant on example E as on yours, as well as the European type sword. Virtually the same design has been seen on examples of sa'if in Yemen, and on British swords of the 18th century (often with German supplied blades).

In my opinion yours, and likely the one seen by Lhote, are probably native copies of the markings seen on authentic German blades which had come into the Red Sea trade and trans-Saharan caravan routes much earlier. These designs remained among those used by some of the native smiths and were indeed impressively done in most cases. In your example the arm lacks the articulations of armor usually seen on the German examples, at least that is my impression. The blade type resembles the central triple fuller type typically seen on kaskara.

The arm holding the sword is a device used apparantly in Germany primarily but adopted by some other centers later. It is typically associated with Peter Munch of Solingen (1595-1660), and who often included the magical symbols of sun, moon and stars which became popular later on talisman blades.It seems that the clouds were added later, probably sometime in the 18th century and much like a number of the symbols used on these blades, thier character compellingly resembles those seen on suits of tarot cards.

Thank you for sharing this takouba Mauro !!!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 15th February 2012, 08:45 AM   #3
Mauro
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Thanks Jim, for your comments. I do not know other examples of this kind of design except that reported in Briggs and I would be happy to read the paper of Henri Lhote. Could you provide me the reference. I am also curious to see if they are associated with this kind of blades or with other types. Most probably you are right on this blade and it is a native blade with a copied design but I am surprised from the high quality of the details. I also ask if the triple fullered blade, although so common in kaskaras, could not come from Europe. I had a look to the book of Boccia & Coelho "Italian white arms" and I found that a triple fuller is found also in quite old blades. I add the scanned copy of three of them. Fig.272 an horseman sword from 1500. Fig. 298, an horseman sword from 1509, is again a triple fullered blade much closer to my takouba blade. Fig.497, a Schiavona 1620-1630, has also 3 fullers. Probably these type of kaskara blades have been already discussed in the forum but thanks again for your comments






All the best,
Jim
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Old 15th February 2012, 08:56 AM   #4
Lee
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Thumbs up Very nice takouba; mounts and blade

I believe that this is an old European trade blade. I am not sure how late some of these designs continued to be applied (I suspect even the 19th century is likely), but clearly, as pointed out by Briggs, some are as early as the 17th century.

I suspect Iain will come in with some more details shortly.
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Old 15th February 2012, 09:26 AM   #5
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Hi Guys,

I'd actually discussed this one with Mauro before, so he knows my views.

I think the blade is European, the markings... I am not sure. 18th-19th century seems the most likely. The profile of the blade does not correspond to 17th century triple fullered blades - at least to my untrained eyes.

I am always extremely suspicious of markings/stamps on takouba and kaskara.

These markings are well executed but I find elements, like the spirals, somewhat crudely done. The lunar elements are very common as native engravings particularly on kaskara. The skill to apply these marks certainly existed locally.

As Jim notes (in far more detail than I could!) these themes were found over a wide range of blade styles and regions.

The mounts on this sword are probably late 19th/early 20th century.

I believe the sword featured as the logo of these forums also carries a similar lunar theme Lee?
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Old 15th February 2012, 12:52 PM   #6
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Hi Mauro,
Excellent references to Boccia& Coelho, and thank you so much for posting them. I very much appreciate your very proactive manner in presenting items for discussion by including information and details you have found which set an excellent benchmark for observations. The blades on these examples shown in "Armi Bianch Italiene" indeed appear to be the prototypes for the blades which became native produced in North African broadswords, most specifically those which became known there as 'masri'.

The paper written by Lhote is cited by Briggs and noted in the bibliography. I actually have not read it, but only have noted Briggs citations. It is of course in French and can probably be obtained through channels. I would actually like very much to obtain a copy as well, and though I have long meant to, have never seemed to have accomplished that.

As both Iain and Lee have suggested, and I am inclined to agree, the blade probably is European, though I am always initially hesitant to apply that assessment since the native examples are typically quite well produced. In discussions over time Iain and I have both come to believe that there were probably producers in Solingen who made blades specifically for export to trade in North Africa and Arabian entrepots, many of which ended up even in India. These triple fuller type blades have turned up in Omani broadswords ( typically termed kattara) , Indian pata, and of course both takouba and kaskara. Many of these type blades turn up even in West Africa in areas of Sierra Leone and others in degree. It would seem that these blades probably were already being produced by native smiths in North Africa before the form became produced in Solingen to augment supplies. At this point the dynamics of these productions and exports remain unclear and largely speculation pending further research, but the possibility is compelling.

As Iain has noted, the markings on these are often quite well executed to a degree, however there are subtle elements which reflect less detail than the originals. These arm in cloud markings appear to have been copied from earlier examples, much as in a number of the other marking forms which occur in variation on these blades in North African settings. It does seem that these types of cabalistic and ethereal themes from many European blades indeed did appeal to the celestial and lunar concepts in the folk religions and traditions in these regions. These were of course readily adopted as symbols or allegories in the native parlance. A number of these have been previously discussed such as the 'fly' marking which became noted toward the agility of the warrior in combat; the lion, which is an important icon in Hadendoa and other tribal cultures; and the cross and orb which became significantly interpreted as drum and sticks, important in warrior and tribal hierarchy.

All the best,
Jim
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Old 15th February 2012, 02:28 PM   #7
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Dear Jim,
I shall try to find the paper of Lothe and if I found I scan it. The French language is not a problem for an Italian. The idea that there were producers in Europe for the African market seems very likely because trade even in the far past was always very active. Whenever there was a request there were merchants ready to answer. I was astonished to read that in the XVI century at the court of the emperor of Ethiopia there were many Italians that could not return to their country because the Emperor was pleased to have foreigners in the court (Crawford O.G.S., 1955. Ethiopian itineraries. Ca 1400-1524. The Hakluyt Society, second series, n.CIX, Cambridge University Press, 230 pp). It is therefore difficult to distinguish between the two. It would be nice to have some blades that are for sure African re-productions but my experience is very limited and I think it would be anyway difficult to be sure. The best way I think is to have a large number of these examples, some of them on surely european blades and to evaluate style and differences. I shall be pleased if some of the readers will post other examples
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Old 15th February 2012, 03:06 PM   #8
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Thank you so much Mauro, that would be fantastic to finally see this cited reference by Lhote! Please dont underestimate your experience, we are all trying to learn together and you are remarkably astute in your observations.
Thank you also for including the reference for the most interesting cite on Italians in Ethiopia, I had no idea that presence was that far back.

I also hope others who read this might bring in more examples. These swords are fascinating representatives of the profound trade routes and global interaction which are finally becoming fully appreciated.

All the best,
Jim
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