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Old 21st August 2013, 06:03 PM   #1
CharlesS
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Default When a Persian Shamshir Becomes a Malay Sundang...sort of...

Many of you are aware that I am fascinated by cross cultural pieces(blades) from the Islamic world and I have shown a wide variety of them in the past on the forum. This piece, however, may be my prize!

This sword is a combination of a 19th century Persian made trade blade of good quality wootz steel(in a style with a weaker curve, more typical to central Asia) with a southern Chinese style guard, and a European style grip, with a distinctly Malay style "cockatoo" pommel with floral motifs. The blade bears the familiar marks of the Assad Allah blade smiths, and has a familiar cartouche on its opposite side in Arabic script.

The Malay who bought this had every intention of making it his own and clearly spent quite a bit to alter the blade and give it a "homespun" identity. I cannot imagine that this blade would have been altered in this fashion in Persia.

My theory on this sword...and we will never know for sure, so purely a theory:

I believe the blade was bought as a status piece as there would have been great respect in the Muslim Malay world for foreign and exotic wootz steel, not to mention the cartouche in Arabic and maker's marks. I wonder if the Arabic script is Arabic or Persian Farsi. One would imagine a much greater likelihood of Arabic being read in the Malay world, but less likely Farsi.
Most likely the problem with the original blade was its length and we don't know if it had a Persian hilt or was the blade alone. So at some point a decision was made to shorten the blade, but not just to shorten it, but make it a more recognizable Malay style and to give it a top edge where a flat or rounded spine had once been.

Note that the as the fullers begin, the spine has been ground down to create a second edge. The top fuller immediately begins to disappear. The blade's tip bares no resemblance to a shamshir, but much more so a sundang or a Moro kriss. The fact that the fullers "run off the blade" assures us that it is a shortened blade.

One might wonder about the length of the blade as compared to a sundang, but if it was shortened any more the balance would be completely lost, and clearly there was no intention to start shortening from the opposite end and lose the beautiful chiseling.

The hilt alone is fascinating as it combines a south Chinese guard(was the owner perhaps an ethnic Chinese Malay??) with a European style grip...which certainly would have been commonly seen by the 19th century. Then add the Malay style "cockatoo" pommel in carved horn with floral motifs for a finishing touch! Note the upper silver portion of the grip creates a 'lip' over the top of the pommel. This is not unusual in Malay sundangs. the pommel never had a downturned portion.

I truly believe the owner was trying to create a sundang from a shamshir, but the width and length of the blade made for quite a few unique adjustments resulting in a lengthier than usual blade, that is a for a sundang.

The scabbard is new and was created by Philip Tom, a fellow forum member. Since we had absolutely nothing to go on regarding what the original scabbard of such a unique sword would look like, Phil took some features of a Chinese dao scabbard(mouth and curvature at the end) and combined it with the aesthetics of a Malay scabbard for the finished product.

Let me assure you that this sword is well over 100 years old as it is, and it might be tempting to think it is a recently put together piece, but most definitely it is not. Clearly a great deal of thought, effort and expense went into its alterations.

Of course much of what I have stated above is pure theory and conjecture, as we can't read the minds of the creators of this piece, but to me this makes sense based on the observable characteristics.

I am eager to read comments and input.
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Last edited by CharlesS : 21st August 2013 at 06:38 PM.
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Old 21st August 2013, 06:21 PM   #2
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A UNIQUE AND BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM SWORD, VERY LIKELY ONE OF A KIND. BEFORE THERE WERE AUTOMOBILES TO CUSTOMIZE MAN WORKED ON HIS WEAPONS AND GEAR. IT SEEMS THE URGE TO CUSTOMIZE GOES BACK AS FAR AS THE URGE TO COLLECT.
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Old 22nd August 2013, 09:10 AM   #3
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This a very nice example of cross national items.
The peoples of Persia, Afghanistan and India took Islam to these areas, and it is quite likely this was a battle field pick up.

The blade was made in the Safavid royal arsenal, which Assadullah apparently had worked at one time. It bears the lion seal of the royal arsenal and the familiar Quranic script of the era.
Right about the lion seal is یا قاضی الحاجات yaa qaazi al haajaat and on the opposite side is لا حول و الله قوت الابالله العلی و العظیم laa hawl o wallah quwat u ellah bellah e alali ul azim.

Just noticed under it all it read یا فتاح yaa fataah,
I'll leave it for one of our native Arabic speakers to give you the meaning.
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Old 22nd August 2013, 11:51 AM   #4
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Nice piece, could be a "rescue" of a broken blade, done back in the day of it's use. But no matter, a very nice find whatever the history.
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Old 22nd August 2013, 12:28 PM   #5
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Very nice piece Charles! Man, if only these things could talk. I think your theory is a good one and illustrates how someone living in a new country might blend all the cultural influences into one piece. So if it was a Chinese man living in Malaysia at the time very well could have wanted to utilize a familiar hand guard from his own country but to fit into the local community mounted it up with a Sundang hilt and then to show their wealth a bit, sport an exotic wootz blade to boot. I think that is very plausible.

As far as the inscriptions, these trade blades typically have the same inscription. If it follows suit, the inscription beneath the lion would read "Oh fulfiller of needs" and the long inscription panel would roughly translate as 'There is no might nor will save with God, the exalted, the almighty".
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Old 22nd August 2013, 01:45 PM   #6
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Again, outstanding and a presumably theory.
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Old 22nd August 2013, 01:53 PM   #7
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Although I am not a collector of cross-cultural items such as yourself Charles, I am fascinated by them, and I hope one day you will publish your collection, so we can all enjoy and learn from your passion and research of these unique items.

Keep up the good work.

Regards,
Runjeet
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Old 22nd August 2013, 04:06 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Akaalarms
Although I am not a collector of cross-cultural items such as yourself Charles, I am fascinated by them, and I hope one day you will publish your collection, so we can all enjoy and learn from your passion and research of these unique items.
Keep up the good work.

Regards,
Runjeet



Thanks Runjeet, but a book would not be likely. There's just too much based on conjecture and theory. Sometimes cross cultural pieces seem to have obvious origins or reasons for various combinations, but it would be very difficult to put together a scholarly work without solid proof. Nothing more than a picture catalog of proposed cross cultural pieces could be produced, as you have suggested.

Nevertheless, until there is proof, guessing, wondering, theorizing and using a little imagination sure is fun!!
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Old 22nd August 2013, 11:11 PM   #9
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Well Charles you could do what some authors do - lie, fabricate, make up whole stories out of the air...........
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Old 23rd August 2013, 01:10 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Battara
Well Charles you could do what some authors do - lie, fabricate, make up whole stories out of the air...........


You know me better!
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Old 23rd August 2013, 09:00 AM   #11
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Well, to add one more interesting feature: the ornamentation on pommel. It's done in North-West Javanese - South Sumatran style, in this case perhaps more Sumatran.

Compare it to the ornamentation on hilt of the beautiful Parang Betino of Loedjoe:

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...light=palembang
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Old 23rd August 2013, 09:08 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David R
Nice piece, could be a "rescue" of a broken blade, done back in the day of it's use. But no matter, a very nice find whatever the history.


Hi David,

I considered that this might have been a broken blade, but I really don't think so. Were it a broken blade the only thing that would need to be done would be refashioning the point. In this case far more effort than that has gone into transforming this blade.
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