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Old 20th April 2019, 08:48 PM   #1
TVV
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Default Sudanese Command Batons

Here is a somewhat unusual item - based on a paper by Stephane Pradnies from 2016, titled "A Late Military Use of the Sphero-conical in the 19th Century Sudan", I believe it to be two Sudanese command batons from the 19th century. You can find the paper in Academia.edu, and these look very similar to the item shown in Fig. 2. According to Pradnies , the small baton has provenance as a trophy, collected following the battle of Navarino in 1827 when the Egyptian fleet was destroyed during the war that led to the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. The collection of various trophies with Eastern African origin from the Egyptian Corps that were fighting on the Ottoman side as Ottoman vassals would perhaps also explain the gile in Elgood's book.

Per Pradines, there were two such batons collected, one of which is in a private collection in the UK, and another one in a private collection in Greece. They consisted of short woodens shafts, with a small spearhead in one end and a sphero-conical vessel in the other. Unfortunately, one of mine has lost the sphero-conical vessel, and at some point it looks like someone tried to combine the two into one with some brass wire. The use of these sphero-conical vessels is also a point of debate, but their mostly likely use was as standardized containers used during the Indian Ocean trade dating back to the time of the Mamelukes in the late Middle Ages.

Again, all of this info is based on Pradines' paper. Have you seen similar items? These tend to appear as pairs, as opposed to single items, and I also wonder what the significance of that would be.

Teodor
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Old 21st April 2019, 05:49 AM   #2
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These are really interesting Teodor, , and while I cannot add anything I just wanted to note I never had any idea that the Sudanese used command batons.
I think that most of my focus has been on Mahdist and post Omdurman forces and weaponry, and by this time other means of identifying leaders of the varying units were used.

I could understand specified Sudanese association with these captured in Ottoman action against Greece in that early time as Ottoman Egypt had nominally taken Sudan in 1821, and they surely used Sudanese forces in degree. What is confusing is the title of this paper (which I have not been able to access yet) suggests the use of the sphero-conical items in 19th c Sudan but it is unclear how they were used.

Here attached to these mysterious batons is puzzling as it would seem there is some symbolic convention intended (the use of these as grenades etc. in ancient to Mamluk period contexts) much in the way a gorget is intended as a badge of rank or distinction.

I look forward to getting this article as the only article I have accessed by this author pretty much asks similar questions but no answers.

It would seem that Ottomans might have adopted the baton use as noted as they adopted many European military notions, which in turn were in many cases from traditions into antiquity, but these are most curious.
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Old 21st April 2019, 07:17 PM   #3
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Thank you for your comments Jim.

For reference, I am attaching a picture of the baton, pictured in Mr. Pradines' paper.
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Old 22nd April 2019, 11:04 AM   #4
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Hi,
Acc. what Mr Manfred Zirngibl told me years ago, this should be a staff of Sudanese priests. I donīt know if it is true - or not.... Maybe there is picture with explanation in Pangana visu book (?) with explanation. Enclosed is piece from my collection (I only have this wrong picture with me)
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Old 22nd April 2019, 11:55 AM   #5
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Quotation from the book Panga na visu + picture
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Old 22nd April 2019, 12:30 PM   #6
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and along the same lines , this is what I have in my collection ...

I posted a picture of this some time ago and the conclusion was that it was a Sudanese dancing spear and that the coins were those of Abdulhamid II ( 1842-1918 ) .
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Old 22nd April 2019, 02:51 PM   #7
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Hi

I agree with you guys
It looks like the Ottoman Turkish dervish maces... at least for the last one posted (with the coins)
So priests and dances are correct to me.
Now i don't know if these dervish priests were also in command in the Maadhist armies...

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Old 22nd April 2019, 04:49 PM   #8
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These are great insights and really help a lot! I truly had no idea about military batons as noted, and this being Sudanese has really set the wheels in motion.

From what I have found, the 'baton' has classical origins in the Roman 'fasces' which was a symbol of authority, power and was held by their key legislative figures etc This practice seems to have had a revival in the neo classicism in Napoleonic France where Napoleons marshals were awarded these symbols of their office. The concept seems to have some use in other armies even into modern times.

I think I would be more inclined to think of these as such items in the baton category with the priests and ceremonial activity which would include dancing and similarly oriented events. I think the geometric shape of the shaft on this one may be supportive of that application.

The coins on the example posted by Thinredline being 1842 of course suggest such items being used in this manner at least during the Mahdist period in Sudan, so being a carry over from the earlier period c.1821. Since this is the specified time of this piece that would be the case.

While I cannot speak to the presence of priests during the Mahdist period nor in the time frame of this piece in battle context, it does seem that they would have at least been present with tribesmen in these crucial times for religious support much as are chaplains in modern times.

In a tenuous thought toward the use of sphero-conical vial on this, I am wondering if perhaps the religious connotation might have been carried further by the use of this recalling the ewers of this shape and material.
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Old 22nd April 2019, 05:45 PM   #9
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Gentlemen,

I really appreciate your responses and the excellent examples you have added to this thread. I should have looked in Panga Na Visu myself, not sure why I forgot to do that before posting here.

Abdul Hamid II ruled from 1876 to 1908, so the spear/scepter bearing coins from the time of his rule is almost certainly from the time of the Mahdist state. These obviously are not useful as weapons, and their use must have been entirely ceremonial - that is for certain. The question remains - what was that ceremonial application in a military context? Were these used as dancing spears prior to battles, in rituals intended to raise religious fever and troop morale? Or were they possibly also used on the battlefield by officers as marks of rank? I personally do not have an answer.

I will just take a moment to briefly examine the provenance of the example in Pradines' paper, as it is dated to the 1820s. Supposedly a couple of those batons can be seen in a photograph from the 1890s hanging in the house of Athansios Lidorikis, a prominent participant in the Greek War of Liberation, alogn with some other trophies from the war. I cannot find the exact dates during which Lidorikis lived, but he is quite old on a portrait painted in 1855, so we can assume that he was not around during the Mahdist wars. Based on this, it seems likely that the dating Pradines provides - 1820s, is correct. This would mean that at least two such batons were carried with the Egyptian troops all the way to Greece, and that these items date at least to the early 19th century, predating their use by Mahdist forces.

Based on all this, the dancing spear attribution seems very plausible, and these may be tied to pre-Islam shamanistic rituals. I am not sure if there is a dancing spear/mace significance in Sufism.

On the other hand, there are other items used by Mahdist forces with more of a symbolic nature, such as thuluth inscribed throwing knives, thuluth inscribed spear shaped battle standards (or are they battle standards?) with short hilts, etc. These items tend to be a piece of sheet steel, with etchings and no real edge and practically useless in battle, but were carried for whatever reason - possibly due to their purported spiritual powers, or as military rank insignia. The two uses are actually not necessarily mutually exclusive. Or they may have been carried by religious figures who were there to boost morale and were not meant to ever find themselves in actual combat situations, though carrying a baton does not preclude one from also carrying a sword.

Again, thank you for the responses, as I am learning a lot from this thread.

Teodor
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Old 22nd April 2019, 08:07 PM   #10
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I assume this is the sort of thing being discussed.

I've wondered for some time what it is: something had obviously dropped off the end, leaving me puzzled what the item was. Without this sort of discussion forum I might never have had any idea as to its identification.
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Old 23rd April 2019, 06:39 AM   #11
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Yes LJ, this is another example of these objects.

I just read the text to the illustrations in Panga Na Visu and if my poor German has not failed me, the use Zirngibl suggests for these Cult spears is a little out there: per Zirngibl, these were used during so-called "Cleansing of the Body through Pain" ceremonies by extreme Muslim fanatics to self-inflict wounds and communicate to God that way.

The literature quoted as a source is not in the Bibliography. Maybe someone would be familiar with these sources:

Fagan, W. Mount Clemens, o. J. Abb. u. Text Nr. 373-380
Pascha, E. o. J. page 109
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Old 23rd April 2019, 08:42 AM   #12
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Small remarks which could, maybe, contribute to the clarification of the use:

The cone/nob made of black clay is, in fact, relatively breakable. The small red bids inserted in it are not bids made of glass etc - it is seed of some tree and in many cases they already dropped out (this does not seem to be durable command baton like eg mace/bulava) It is really long time and I donīt remember well already, but I heard the clay and seeds had some meaning for Mahdist monks...
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Old 23rd April 2019, 05:21 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Lubojacky
Small remarks which could, maybe, contribute to the clarification of the use:

The cone/nob made of black clay is, in fact, relatively breakable. The small red bids inserted in it are not bids made of glass etc - it is seed of some tree and in many cases they already dropped out (this does not seem to be durable command baton like eg mace/bulava) It is really long time and I donīt remember well already, but I heard the clay and seeds had some meaning for Mahdist monks...


Oh, so then this is what Zirngibl means by "decorated with poisonous seeds". I was not quite sure how to interpret that part when I read the text to the illustration in Panga Na Visu, but your explanation makes perfect sense now.

So I guess what we have are dancing spears, meant for ritualistic use by fervent dervishes in Sudan.
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Old 23rd April 2019, 07:18 PM   #14
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As Jim says (it's not a quotation) "it's amazing what we can learn on this forum"...

I'm convinced that these batons or maces were used by dervishes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TVV
So I guess what we have are dancing spears, meant for ritualistic use by fervent dervishes in Sudan.


Teodor I don't think that you should dissociate religious use and military use.
These objects are not maces, not spears either...
You can find many books and articles about the role of the dervishes and sufis in the Sudanese armies. The mahdi was a sufi. You can find a lot of books on the role of sufis and dervishes in the ottoman army and also in the Safavid army.

We should be humbles and it's already a big step to say that these batons were used by dervishes...
During the battles to command units, for prayers before the battles or to bury the dead like in the Ottoman armies...who knows...
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Old 23rd April 2019, 10:26 PM   #15
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Teodor,

I read Pradines' paper you referenced. I'm not sure that he proved his points.
1. While Sudanese troops (as "other ranks") typically Nuba, were in Greece, they likely were not in command positions. He provides no evidence that they were. Nuba were highly regarded and used as slave troops by the Ottomans, later impressed by the Mahdist and as free men by the British at Omdurman.
2. Is the end piece actually a sphero-conical container? Doesn't look bulbous enough and the end hole is too big.They may appear simiiar to s-c common from Romania to Central Asia. I think they were purpose made pieces, thick enough to be drilled to accept the seeds or beads. While some of these batons may have been collected after Omdurman, I saw no evidence as to who used them or for what purpose.
3. The Mahdi essentially outlawed participation in sufi activities during his reign. As far as I know, none of the British captives or others who wrote reports of the Mahdiya mentioned religious officials using such a baton.Much of these reports were propaganda, but they and later histories were pretty inclusive and were good observers.

I like your batons, but while he weaves an interesting story, I'm not convinced it is what he says it is.

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Old 23rd April 2019, 11:18 PM   #16
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Thank you Ed, I agree that the knobs do not look like sphero-conical vessels, at least on the spears/scepters discussed here. It also looks like these were in use well before the Mahdi started his rebellion, with their use continuing during the Mahdiya but not originating during those times. The command baton theory so far lacks factual support, so we should probably dismiss it for now.

If I am interpreting your post right, you have not found anything in contemporary accounts to support Zirngibl's statement that these were used by religious fanatics for self-inflicting wounds either, correct?

Teodor
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Old 23rd April 2019, 11:54 PM   #17
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Teodor,

Some shi'a of contemporary Iran beat themselves across the back with chains, bringing blood. No doubt this practice has a historical roots, but I haven't researched it lately. I don't recall reading of any self flagellation among Mahdists and Sudanese in general. Scarification is another matter as tribal identification, but not as far as I know a Islamic ritual. Of course, specialists could know of details available to serious detailed study.

Maybe officials of the Turkiya/Egyptian government in Sudan may have used a baton between 1821-1885. Can't say.

Best,
Ed
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Old 24th April 2019, 02:51 AM   #18
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I am thinking the 'baton' notion is a bit of a red herring, and am pretty much firmly in accord with this item being something used by priests or other religious figures used in ceremonial practices rather than any sort of command symbol. While this example, by its provenance, well predates the Mahdist period, it does seem clear that the nature of the item is similar to later examples used as ceremonial objects used in the Mahdiyya period.

These seem to approximate forms of mace, and like many weapons which are effectively like the actual combat weapons they recall, they are of course used in a more figurative manner, to dispel evil, etc. I have learned a great deal more on the thuluth weapons, and find the suggestion that these may well have been used in military ranks to carry as talismanic standards etc. quite plausible . The fact that these are not typically sharpened may support that.

While these various forms of 'mace' have 'weapon' like elements in most cases, I do not think they are intended for necessarily 'military' context. They may well be intended as figurative 'weapons' in the manner of the 'phurbu' of Tibet for example. A 'dagger' to chase away demons.

While I am sure there were not 'thuluth' covered weapons in the Greek situation to which this example is noted as from, there were surely native priests or monks there with the tribal forces who might have used this accordingly.

To the Mahdi, while he was a Sufi, and effectively a dervish in the Summaniya order, he later changed to a different Tariqa, and as he began his Jihad, he forbad the use of the dervish term, insisting on the term 'Ansar'(=helper) for his followers. They remained mystics, so I believe the practices were very much as before. The examples of these ceremonial maces/staves which have added elements such as crocodile hide, small daggers etc. are in keeping with the weapons so decorated in his time and that of the Khaliph.

As in the field of battle, these Ansar fully expected glorious death, and the presence of priests, talismanic objects emblazoned with talismanic invocations and in their view certainly would have driven their fervor into action.

I hope I have recounted these things reasonably accurately from what I have found in researching these past few days and look forward to correction from those here far better versed in them than I.
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Old 24th April 2019, 08:03 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
I am thinking the 'baton' notion is a bit of a red herring, and am pretty much firmly in accord with this item being something used by priests or other religious figures used in ceremonial practices rather than any sort of command symbol. While this example, by its provenance, well predates the Mahdist period, it does seem clear that the nature of the item is similar to later examples used as ceremonial objects used in the Mahdiyya period.

These seem to approximate forms of mace, and like many weapons which are effectively like the actual combat weapons they recall, they are of course used in a more figurative manner, to dispel evil, etc. I have learned a great deal more on the thuluth weapons, and find the suggestion that these may well have been used in military ranks to carry as talismanic standards etc. quite plausible . The fact that these are not typically sharpened may support that.

While these various forms of 'mace' have 'weapon' like elements in most cases, I do not think they are intended for necessarily 'military' context. They may well be intended as figurative 'weapons' in the manner of the 'phurbu' of Tibet for example. A 'dagger' to chase away demons.

While I am sure there were not 'thuluth' covered weapons in the Greek situation to which this example is noted as from, there were surely native priests or monks there with the tribal forces who might have used this accordingly.

To the Mahdi, while he was a Sufi, and effectively a dervish in the Summaniya order, he later changed to a different Tariqa, and as he began his Jihad, he forbad the use of the dervish term, insisting on the term 'Ansar'(=helper) for his followers. They remained mystics, so I believe the practices were very much as before. The examples of these ceremonial maces/staves which have added elements such as crocodile hide, small daggers etc. are in keeping with the weapons so decorated in his time and that of the Khaliph.

As in the field of battle, these Ansar fully expected glorious death, and the presence of priests, talismanic objects emblazoned with talismanic invocations and in their view certainly would have driven their fervor into action.

I hope I have recounted these things reasonably accurately from what I have found in researching these past few days and look forward to correction from those here far better versed in them than I.



A very reasoned summary Jim , as usual, and I do agree that the 'command' element is misleading. When I first read this thread I thought the term 'command baton' was odd and unfamiliar and struck me as a bad translation , as the phrase command baton is not one that I am familiar with in English at all . We would simply say baton or most likely in a military context 'Field Marshall's baton' as these are the only guys that carry them in the British Army. So has this been borrowed from the archaeological phrase 'baton de commandment' which refers to the paleolithic antler bone artefacts now thought to have been spear throwers ? I agree they may well be some form of talismanic device and as has been suggested , perhaps carried by priests of some sort , but 'commanders' ...I dont think so . For one thing , certainly their use by commanders in the later Mahdist period would have been recorded either in drawings or photos by the eventually victorious Anglo-Egyptians , or brought back to Britain to reside in the various regimental museums , prized trophies and labelled 'taken from so and so , commander of .... '. I have not encountered any evidence of this in my 40 years of interest in the Sudan wars , but would be delighted to be corrected !
As an aside I have a Sudanese 'bident' , unsharpened and covered in thuluth script , which I have always taken to be a status symbol item of a local chieftain or the equivalent of a battle standard in western terminology , serving as a rallying point and for morale purposes ( showing the leader is still in the field ! ) . I feel items like this are more likely to be commanders 'batons'. See attached picture .
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Old 24th April 2019, 09:59 PM   #20
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Thanks very much TRL!
The baton term seems often misconstrued giving us this notion of these kinds of objects made in the form (loosely) of certain weapons signifying command recognition. As we have seen, these variations produced in Sudanese context during the Mahdiyya appear to be intended for religious leaders who were perhaps present in tandem with the emirs who did indeed command certain units of forces. While I think the units primarily relied on flags for identification and assigned to their commanders, while these kinds of weapon/standard were possibly carried by these religious leaders within the units. I have an 'alam' , a huge spade shaped spear head with thuluth used as a standard probably in similar fashion.

The thuluth calligraphy carried profound invocations and messages, just as on various forms of weapons such as kaskara, axes and throwing knives. The two bladed configuration represents of course the dual blades of Dhu'l Faqar and its religious and talismanic magic potency. In other forms of the ceremonial mace we have seen here, some have two knives attached, which in effect carries the same implication. It would seem these were produced in shops in Omdurman, possibly as early as 1881, which date has been found on thuluth covered blades on kaskara.
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Old 24th April 2019, 11:45 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Thanks very much TRL!
The baton term seems often misconstrued giving us this notion of these kinds of objects made in the form (loosely) of certain weapons signifying command recognition. As we have seen, these variations produced in Sudanese context during the Mahdiyya appear to be intended for religious leaders who were perhaps present in tandem with the emirs who did indeed command certain units of forces. While I think the units primarily relied on flags for identification and assigned to their commanders, while these kinds of weapon/standard were possibly carried by these religious leaders within the units. I have an 'alam' , a huge spade shaped spear head with thuluth used as a standard probably in similar fashion.

The thuluth calligraphy carried profound invocations and messages, just as on various forms of weapons such as kaskara, axes and throwing knives. The two bladed configuration represents of course the dual blades of Dhu'l Faqar and its religious and talismanic magic potency. In other forms of the ceremonial mace we have seen here, some have two knives attached, which in effect carries the same implication. It would seem these were produced in shops in Omdurman, possibly as early as 1881, which date has been found on thuluth covered blades on kaskara.


Most interesting Jim, thank you.
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Old 26th April 2019, 08:42 AM   #22
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Here is a Spheroidal Muslim Ewer for sprinkling Perfume...from the Rasulid Dynasty. The Rasulids were a Sunni Muslim dynasty that ruled Yemen from 1229 to 1454. Picture from the V and A Museum book~ Islamic Insignia and Western Heraldry page (about) 17.
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Old 26th April 2019, 09:28 AM   #23
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A further supporting clue is below on https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipe...h_in_Tehran.jpg showing an Iranian Darvish in Tehran...I have seen the other end of these staff and they are roughly sharpened .
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Old 26th April 2019, 08:44 PM   #24
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Thank you for adding these images Ibrahiim, these shapes really are compelling suggestion of these items on the base of these staffs representing or even perhaps having been these kinds of vials. I am not sure of the processes or ceremony of ablutions or how such rituals would be carried out on the field of battle, but as it was a Jihad, certainly such Holy Men would have been present.
I think the similar examples shown here in the thread have shown these were some sort of scepter used by priests, and while these may not have been the actual S/C items in all cases, they may well have been intended to represent them.
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Old 13th December 2019, 08:53 AM   #25
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This little Sudanese maces are amazing.
As Teodor said they are most likely to be associated to Dervish and sufi rituals.
There is no doubt that they are original items and they are rare but not unique.
I think one is for sale in the swap forum...

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Old 13th December 2019, 09:46 AM   #26
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Kubur,

You " think"????


What gave you the idea? :-)))))
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Old 13th December 2019, 04:17 PM   #27
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Are you saying that i'm a very bad saleman?
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Old 14th December 2019, 12:19 AM   #28
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When you consider that many "Mahdist" items are actually post Omdurman and intended for the European souvenir market, these are quite cool in that they are indeed from an earlier time, potentially the early 19th century. And I agree that they are not seen often and somewhat obscure.
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Old 31st May 2020, 08:16 PM   #29
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Well, I finally got a pair of these, I have read the entire thread and I still don't know their purpose.
I can not see how they would be used in a religious context other than as the Tibetians use the phurba to exorcise demons or as various religions in the practice of self-flagellation.
Based on my limited knowledge I can only imagine that these were indeed used as command batons, as certainly the Sudanese may have viewed and copied their use by British or as souvenirs sold to the above-mentioned soldiers.
Also, what is the deal with the seeds? Are they to be taken as a power boost, are they used as a sedative after a long hard day to help you sleep, or to rid yourself of your least favorite wife?
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