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Old 7th May 2019, 11:49 AM   #1
CharlesS's Avatar
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Default A Unique Sword From The Dahomey Empire / Fon People

Here is a very nice example of a sword from the Kingdom of Dahomey or Fon people. It is certainly unique compared to other African swords. It likely dates to the early 20th century, perhaps earlier.

I am curious about opinions regarding potential outside influences if any.

The sword has a short blade with yelman and is mounted in brass with a ray skin ring to the grip. The scabbard is unique with two offsetting baldric mounts.

I have also posted a photo of one of the famous Dahomey "Amazons"(this is a retired unit) with a sword that almost certainly matches it. You may need to enlarge the photo.

Overall length: 22.5in
Blade length: 17in.
Yelman's widest point: 1.75in.
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Last edited by CharlesS : 7th May 2019 at 01:38 PM.
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Old 7th May 2019, 01:30 PM   #2
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superb !
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Old 7th May 2019, 09:03 PM   #3
Jim McDougall
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I do not have my notes handy, but I have one of these acquired some years ago. It has the 'serpentine' linear motif etc. and hilt and blade profile the same but no scabbard.
I do recall this was misidentified at the time, and in some research I found a nearly identical one in an article in "Tribal Arts" magazine written by a museum curator in Belgium. When I reached the author he indicated his example had been collected by a French army officer in 1856 in Dahomey, and later acquired by the museum.

In further research in "African Arms & Armor" (Spring, 1993) there was a strikingly similar example (hilt and blade, which was serrated) in a plate from "Sabres du Dahomey" by M. Palau Marti ( Objets et Monde, VII:4, 1967).
These small swords appear to be a form of either 'hwi' or 'gubasa' used by Dahomeans, with these apparently indeed used by the 'Amazon' forces.

The Ahosi (termed 'Amazons' by Europeans) are described by Burton in his time in mid 19th c. as well as "Dahomey and the Dahomeans" F.E. Forbes, 1851. These women warrior troops seem known as early as 1734 (Snelgrave).

The serpentine motif on the blades may have to do with the 'Aido-Hwedo' serpents in the Vodun Faith of Damomey and surrounding West African areas.

We know that this particular hilt and blade form was used in these contexts as early as 1856, by the one I have as confirmed by the museum in Belgium.
Certainly this one seems close to the form, much nicer! and with scabbard and could well date anywhere from mid to latter 19th, possibly early 20th.
Sorry I don't have notes and pics handy, but this is what I recall.
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