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Old 14th April 2005, 02:31 AM   #1
fearn
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Default Another theoretical question: what are those Central African swords used for anyway?

Hi All,

Currently, there are some droolingly gorgeous African weapons coming out of hiding. Since I didn't know much about them before (aside from that "swords" picture in Stone's Glossary), I'm finding this fascinating.

I'm going to pitch a question to the list: why are the Central African swords and knives so diverse in shape, and so frequently of marginal functionality?

Here's my guess: basically, the swords were generally side-arms, with something else, such as a spear or bow, being the main arm. Flavio's picture of the armed tribesman on Louie's Kuba thread is a case in point. As side arms, the swords and knives primarily play a symbolic role, and their use as weapons is secondary. In this way, they're more like a keris than like, say, a European sword.

What do all you experts think? Feel free to post more pics too, while you're at it!

Cheers,

Fearn
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Old 14th April 2005, 02:53 AM   #2
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I'm no wiz with the pictures, but I'll give it a shot without any. Of course the swords are side arms, with lances, javelins, bows, throwing weapons, and guns to keep the enemy dying further from you before you have to resort to a sword or dagger or club or axe, etc. Frankly, I think the African swords are way under-studied, and it may be way too late to study most of them as weapons and/or tools within their native cultures, as they often are not much used anymore as weapons (because of the modern army abolishing the self arming militia system, and because spring tempered machetes offer an often superior using value to forged iron, or even steel, as many of the African smiths, if they are forging springs as I'm told, are not tempering them to a spring temper; I don't know that this means they don't know how, but on the other hand, the popularity of foreign made machetes says something, dunnit? ), so much about their use and making is lost, but IMHO a lot of them are a lot more effective than modern "westerners" (ie. Northerners ) typically think. The sickle/mambele sword of the 'Zande, 'Gombe, etc. is a nasty nasty fighting piece, for instance, and while I've encountered pieces that seemed like clearly effigy/symbolic/money/etc. pieces, by no means all the odd seeming African arms are at all impractical. I also think that, just because an ancestor worshipper uses great grand dad's sword as a "dance wand" in religious ceremonies now, is not any reason to think that's what it was back in the day, and I think this ideation occurs a lot in the "fine art scene" where African swords are as popular as they are to ethno collectors, and usually moreso than with modern N American martial artists, and where there is often an exaggerated horror of violence......

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Old 14th April 2005, 08:02 PM   #3
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I think all of Toms points are valid but here is my 2pence worth.
Take the Congo,the size of western europe and mostly jungle and transport by foot,isolation and distinction from your neighbor/enemy could foster variation.Many non functional forms may indicate how close a person was to the seat of power.In a world of limited material wealth these items were the pinnacle of technical/spiritual achievment, bling in other words.Tim
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Old 14th April 2005, 09:07 PM   #4
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Hi Tim and Tom,

I agree, especially with Tim's remarks about the isolation. I'm having issues with non-functional "bling" masquerading as a weapon. In some cases, those swords would be great weapons--not something to fence with, but more than adequate against an unarmored opponent. In other cases, they simply make me scratch my head.

Personally, I'd first figured that the Congo was actually pretty peaceful, given that they hadn't spent a lot of time optimizing their swords for war This is with the Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Thais, Burmese, Indonesians, Phillipinos, etc for examples of blades optimized primarily for war and secondarily for decoration.

Finally, it occurred to me to look at what else the Congo men might have been carrying, and their spears and bows (two other understudied areas) are pretty functional. Personally, I'm beginning to suspect that the groups that depended most on their bows and spears might have had the weirder swords.

I'm thinking in almost evolutionary terms--if you rarely draw your sword as a weapon, it can be a great thing for flaunting your identity and status. If you have to use the thing on anything like a regular basis, functionality might win out. I'd suggest that this might be a good way of understanding the martial culture of the Congo and west African tribes. It might be more broadly applicable, come to think of it. Indonesia has all those gorgeous Keris, after all, and I'd hate to depend on one in the middle of a battle.

In general, I think there's something interesting about resource-poor cultures that make their weapons (at least to my eyes) over-decorative, in the sense that the shape might interfere with function to some extent. To me, this says that the makers of that weapon actually lived in a relatively peaceful place. Either that, or they weren't as resource poor as we think, and they could afford the "bling." However, if these blades are "bling," what were they fighting with?

Fun to think about, anyway.

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Old 14th April 2005, 10:42 PM   #5
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Hello guys.

The problem that regards the use of the African weapons is very complex.
The fact that the Westerns call "weapons" some objects only because there are resemblances to the western white weapons it's a great mistake.
The object that for us are weapons for the owenrs have a turmoil of meanings (status symbol, ritual and cultual meaning, social meaning, economic meaning etc...).

I think that we can consider, with an high degree of certainty, non functional the object with copper or brass blade, but again we don'yt know the true meaning (ritual, cultual, social...).
For the "weapons" with an iron blade the true sense is a mystery. We can make hypothesis observing the general shape (more or less functional), the decoration (a functional object perhaps is less decorated, but also this is not sure), the presence of an handled (in order to understand if the blade were used like currency). The presence of one or more of these elements maybe could tell us the use of the object that we have for the hands.

In last it is not to forget that often the "weapons" have not had a single meaning and use!
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Old 15th April 2005, 12:36 AM   #6
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Hi Flavio,

With a great deal of respect, I have to disagree with your mystification of african swords. After all, many cultures use swords and sword-like objects for dancing and other ceremonial uses, trade blades have been common for centuries (which is what these money knives are), and we're certainly now talking about swords as status symbols (see current-running threads), decorative objects (what most collectors do), and economic symbols (something I understand all too well as a postdoc). If you know any pagans, you're also aware that a knife or sword can be a religious object (athame or boline), even if it's razor sharp. We also have a whole fantasy knife industry (such as Gil Hibben's yearly productions) that produces objects are definitely knives and blur the boundaries between weapon and art piece.

Given all that, are African blades weird? Every explanation that's been put forward has a parallel in modern American culture, and certainly in other cultures. I have to wonder if we're making a mystery out of these blades because they often do look different (just as they often look like Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian designs). Perhaps we're also making a mystery out of them because we can't now go live in the Congo or Angola and find out what these people believe. In any case, I suspect that these wonderful pieces are understandable, but that perhaps we need to see them differently.

It's a fun question, though, and I'm certainly enjoying the seeing people's collections.

Fearn
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Old 15th April 2005, 02:13 AM   #7
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I do not believe there is any foundation for thinking of copper/brass blades as inrinsically nonfunctional. AFAIK they are used by some ethnic groups or cults who must not touch iron, some of them only at certain times. Of course, as has been said here, and as Conogre pointed out on another thread, there may be many features and powers of African swords that have much meaning and utility from the viewpoint of the African (religious/magical comes to mind), while seeming pointless or useless to an unknowing foreigner.

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Old 15th April 2005, 06:11 PM   #8
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There are also many other factors to consider that are rarely mentioned, such as the fact that many tribes within a tribal nation or group lacked at least some portion, if not all of the skill required to work metal, particularly iron and steel, thus pieces were often made by tribes other than those actually using them.....I've always been curious as to how the "smithing tribes" knew which features were to be incorporated into which weapons.
Another is that tribal home ranges were often extremely fluid over suprisingly short periods of time, with alliances changing according to the whim of the ruling tribal leaders and the fact that MANY tribes viewed, and still do, the only real solution to a war being complete genocide of the opposing faction, which necessitated finding ANY ally in a storm for the weaker peoples, ie "bodyguards".
Yet another is that may "tribes" are in actuality sub-groups, that are governed by a very strict caste system allowing certain pieces to be owned by specific ranks as a "badge of office" in one group while they may be the tribal weapon of choice within another.
Even more confusing is that in Africa, many peoples didn't bury weapons with the owners, feeling that if it didn't degrade it left the warrior weaponless in the afterlife (and thus often very angry) so that several styles of blades might be found in one group as they evolved and changed, with only the hilt being changed as required, along with the traditions of captured pieces often being retained by the victor because of the spirit or courage that went with it and just simple trading over much wider areas than were found in other locales.
I have to agree with Tom and others in feeling that FAR too much study was ignored for way too long to the point that the real information is simply lost forever to time, while I disagree with the concept of the Congo region being "peaceful", with the exact opposite actually being true on a scale that is actually incomprehsible to many westerners.
Lastly, there is the concept, also difficult to grasp by western minds, that many weapons were made to fight enemies from different planes of existance and the spirit world in battles that were every bit as life and death to them as battles with other tribes and forien invaders, with many throwing weapons coming to mind and NEVER used against earthly foes (I've seen estimates as high as 60% of the different forms)....many tribes actually have no word or concept for a "natural death", with the only causes being enemy humans, wild animals or physical accidents with ALL other deaths being the direct result of curses, witchcraft, demons and spirits with old age and illness included in one of the aforementioned.
In all, many African weapons may well end up being the least understood of any on earth in the end.
Mike
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Old 15th April 2005, 06:17 PM   #9
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Hello Fearn , maybe there is a problem of understending. I donít think that african weapons are weird, but itís completely wrong to think that a simple comparison could help us to understand the WHOLE meaning of an ethnographic weapon (or in general material culture) and in particolar is wrong to make comparison between a traditional society and industrialized societies like the western ones.
Also i think that to try to find comparison between ancient societies (as you say Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian) and modern traditional societies itís more wrong if is it possible (the time gap itís too wide!). Ethnologistes go among traditional societies because the only way to understand the way of life of these groups itís to try to know directly by them.

Tom, have you ever try to use a copper sword against an iron sword? The main function of a weapon is to cut, stick, stab in poor words to kill enemies. A fragile weapon is the worst choice for remain alive! So, as you say, in some tribe copper or brass (more frequently wood) knife, dagger, sword, axe, spear lost their main function to be used in ceremonies.
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Old 15th April 2005, 06:23 PM   #10
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Hi Fearn,

People always look for what's 'behind' an object of another culture. We, Europeans, have an urge to explain everything. This is the case with tribal masks or statues, but also with weaponry.

A lot of the different shapes we see in African weapons just evolved from other weapons. The best example is the throwing knife. These weapons were used in open country. I don't know if some of you ever had the pleasure of holding such a knife. Regardless of their strange shape, they are leathal when thrown.

But, as people migrated to areas which had more forests, their weapons evolved. Some sickle knives from the Congo area have a shape which can be retraced to the form of certain throwing knives.

On the other hand, even strangely shape knives can be functional. Look a the trumbash or mambele knife of the Mangbetu. I can assure you that you can use some of them when working in your garden.
In Medieval times, garden tools were also used in warfare in Europe. These were the weapons of the peasant who couldn't afford a sword. A large sickle mounted on a pole could do some damage to a knight on horse back.

As in every culture, some men were richer than others. The best way to show this, was through your weapons. These were adorned with copper, brass and ivory. Some became ceremonial, but the basic form was still functional.

And Fearn, as you requested : here's a picture of a very functional weapon : a trumbash or mambele



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Old 15th April 2005, 06:30 PM   #11
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Flavio, you seem to forget that up until the very recent past metal was indeed the "money" of Africa, with individuals using whatever was at hand or that they could afford IRREGARDLESS of what the enemy or other tribe was using.
If an enemy attacked with an iron tipped spear and all that you had was a copper knife or club, you used what you had.
You seem to be forgetting that almost every tribe had some sort of wooden throwing stick or club that was used both for hunting and fighting in addition to knives, swords, spears and bows and arrows.
If you look closely you'll find that there are small, slim wooden shields almost indistinguishable from Australian aboriginal pieces found throughout Africa, and that the sticks were often ignored in favor of the more elaborite weapons by anthroplogists, who often didn't even realize the import placed upon them by their owners or that they were indeed made by THAT tribe.
Genetic DNA evidence seems to indicate that the Australian Bushmen and the African Bushmen are among or ARE the oldest human groups remaining on the planet with some also feeling that the true Philippine and Indonesian negrito are not too distant from them themselves, lending strong support to the "wave" theory of human migration.
Mike
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Old 15th April 2005, 06:50 PM   #12
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Hello all,this thread is just an invitation to show this non functional weapon called a scorpion,which you can just see in the detail picture.This comes from a large area incuding NE Nigeria,NW Cameroon.I was trying to hold these back but I am weak.Tim
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Old 15th April 2005, 06:54 PM   #13
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Cool, an argument! Oops. I shouldn't be making trouble...

Anyway...

Hi Conogre,

I think the points about warfare are worth thinking about. I'm not sure whether you managed to contradict yourself or not, but I think one thing we can agree on is that if a weapon is frequently needed for fighting, it's design tend to reflect the realities of that use. In other words, it will be sharp, well-balanced for its good strokes, with a good handle, and well-tempered. I'd suggest that a lot of the swords we're talking about ably meet these criteria, as do war swords from around the world. The "weird" swords and knives I'm talking about are the ones that are short-handled, awkwardly weighted, etc. This doesn't include the throwing knives, but it does include many others.

I would also say that, "the western mind" is as much a myth as race is--in other words, if you pick some extreme examples (for instance a Swedish molecular biologist and a refugee in Kinshasa), you will see all sorts of differences. Constructing any theories out of these two points is a total waste of time, because it disregards all the other people in between these two extremes. When you look at all the intergradations, the differences disappear. Personally, I prefer "I don't know" to "the western mind can't comprehend" because it makes fewer assumptions about reality.

Hi Flavio,

To take one point: there have been trade routes across the Sahara for millenia, and personally, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the blades that look like ancient Greek and Roman designs were originally inspired by blades coming south through trade. They're good designs after all, especially in an area that preferred shorter swords. Obviously nothing can be proved, but it's worth thinking about.

Hi Freddy,

Thanks for pointing out the farm blades idea. However, it's not new to me. Personally, I keep wanting to buy a bank blade (aka a glaive--it's a long-handled version of the bill you've pictured). They're $26.95 at the local big-box hardware store. Since I don't have a use for such a tool, it would just be more clutter when I move in a few months. I also totally agree with you about the throwing knives. However, their design is pretty self-evident to anyone who has thrown a blade, and there are also good accounts of their use in battle and in the hunt.


Hi Conogre,

Since you brought up DNA, it's worth pointing out that there is more mitochondrial diversity within Africa than there is in the rest of the world combined. What does that mean about race and culture? Nothing. The absolute level of diversity within the human species pales compared to, say, the diversity seen in different populations of chimpanzees, to say nothing of truly diverse mammals such as wolves. While there's an enormous diversity of humans, most of the people who study such things attribute that diversity almost entirely to culture. Most of the remainder is on the biochemical level (i.e. lactose intolerance, sickle cell), and genetic markers for anything like our standard racial categories has turned out to be next to impossible to find.

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Old 15th April 2005, 07:11 PM   #14
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Question non-functional

Tim,

Why do you say your 'scorpion' is non-functional ? Perhaps because it has no sharp edgdes ? I once held one in my hands. It's quite heavy, no ? Perhaps it's just used as some kind of iron mace. Imagine what damage it would do if you used it to hit someone in the head.

By the way, let's start again. I'm sure Flavio also has something to show.

This is a classical Zande-throwing knife.

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Old 15th April 2005, 07:16 PM   #15
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Hello Freddy,yes it is heavy and it could be used to inflict terrible wounds.I have one more, but I have to take a picture.Tim
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Old 15th April 2005, 09:54 PM   #16
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Hello Freddy
Let's leave apart the theoretical problems in which, I think, never we will be agree and let me show you my functional Bagirmi throwing blade
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Old 15th April 2005, 11:23 PM   #17
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At the risk of being screamed at, I would still join the opinion that Central African bladed weapons are inefficient.
Yes, throwing knives are dangerous and being bashed over the head with a Mambele may be detrimental to your health. But so are just heavy sticks, stone axes and long bones (remember "2001"?)
Central Africans never developed a coherent system of swordfight (for better or for worse). To be effective, a sword shoud balance maximal damaging potential of a specific kind (stabbing and/or cutting) with the minimum of superfluous structures to assure maneurability.
Shamshir has it, rapier has it and katana has it in spades.
C.African weapons are so decorative, have such exaggerated features and so unwieldy that they just cannot compare! Perhaps, only Seme has some semblance of functionality.
These swords fulfilled a dual purpose: partly ceremonial and religious symbols (think Tibetan Phurba), partly weapons of war. I am not qualified to judge the former and respect any religious system that does not endorse murder, human sacrifice and cannibalism. Let them be... But as for the latter... Well, they just cannot cut the mustard!
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Old 16th April 2005, 01:07 AM   #18
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AFAIK little is known of traditional C African martial arts in N America, but I am given to understand that the assumption that this indicates incompetence is a misimpression. Certainly many of the swords are very effective, when you consider that tempered martensite did not seem to be known in most of traditional Africa.
There are indeed whose handles, extreme flimsiness (though IMHO less of these than the EuroAmerican impression; maybe less of both; my small hilted Mongo sword does have a coned guard and pommel that are meant to fit within the hand) etc, even if we had no cultural information in the matter, which we do have, mark them as ceremonial. Swords, etc. were/are often rank markers in traditional African culture, and can have other ceremonial uses, as well. I think of the brass-handled dagger with the snake(s?) on the handle....
Yes, the main purpose of an edged weapon is usually to pierce or cut the enemy; to sever his muscles, tendons, and organs, and to let his blood out. Copper, bronze, brass, stone, and bone are perfectly up to the task; many many humans and bigger, tougher things, have been killed with them on a routine basis. The idea that your sword is for something more than that; that it is for blocking and clashing with other weapons, a thing the traditional sword-and-sheild figter usually avoids, is a culture-specific idea; it is not seen in all cultures, and is not terribly relevant to all fighting systems. That said, of course, brass is less strong and stiff than iron for a blade, and maybe even more expensive in traditional economy (?), but as has been said, people often have a lot more things driving their actions than maximizing material effectiveness; religious concerns and social displays come to mind, but an item can have aspects of those and still be a weapon, if you follow me. Look at brass and silver inlaid into blades; it serves no practical purpose, yet the chiselled cuts can be a place for a crack to start. Yet we see it all the time, on, I think, a lot of using blades. A far lesser unsturdiness than being brass, I admit, but just trying to make a point

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Old 16th April 2005, 01:52 AM   #19
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There are many good points coming out here and more than a few misinterpretations and misunderstandings as well.
Fearn, I'd like to take credit for the comments about western thinking, or, as Tom puts it, cultural bias, but unfortunately I'm only repeating concepts put forward by Christopher Spring, other African weapons authors (I only wish I could read German, Arabic or French, among others)many anthropologists and even David Attenbburrough.
When ariel brought up the point about more traditionally shaped weapons and African weapons, to me part of the reason jumps right out.....weapons along regular trade/conquest routes regularly came into contact with others and evolved in response to same, while much of Africa remained out of contact with "mainstream" societies and technologies for literally centuries, thus evolved according to entirely different pressures.
The same standards could be said about castles and fortresses as opposed to thatched huts and kraals, while in truth it's simply apples and oranges, each having evolved according to different pressures and basic ways of viewing things as well.
In many cases, these "inefficient weapons" gave surprisingly good accountings for themselves and the people using them when they came up against far superior technologies for decades, even a century at a minimum.....ask the French, Brittish, Belgians, Dutch, etc.
In parts of TODAY'S Africa, if a crocodile takes a child you DO NOT offend the powers that be by seeking retribution against the animal, and likewise, being stoned to death for witchcraft is VERY common over HUGE areas, just as examples of regional spirituality.
In a thread such as this it's impossible to address ALL of the factors in any depth, or even most of them, likewise time limits bibliographies, reference sites, resources and such.
Even when it comes down to essentials such as "murder, human sacrifice and cannibalism", mass murder and genocide are sadly still very common, as evidenced by Rwanda, and even Liberia .....I can't quote exact figures, but deaths rose into the thousands while 9 soldiers were sent in to observe (I edited out a considerable amount, trying to avoid current political issues, which limits pursuing that line of argument)
Those ungainly weapon forms, by the way, directly contribute to another matter recently discussed here, ie western machetes vs established tribal forms....often a coup, for example, can be made successful by importing many thousands of cheap machetes and putting them in the hands of people who have no hesitation about using them on each other as WEAPONS rather than expensive firearms or waiting while vast number of traditional forms are made, making it a simple matter of economy and convenience.
Anyone who has stood facing a mob, even though well armed with modern weaponry knows that a rabid mob mentality can be terrifying enough to be considered a weapon all by itself, and THAT'S based upon experience, not conjecture or reading.
Mike
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Old 16th April 2005, 09:44 AM   #20
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There does not seem to be much use of armour in tropical Africa except shields of organic materials,so perhaps weapons could be on the light side.I think it is wrong to assume because you can not see how to fight with a certain weapon that did not as well.They most have been skilled in the use of thier weapons and trianed in there use like any other fighter.Tim
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Old 16th April 2005, 01:31 PM   #21
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The original question, read carefully, and as further explained, seems to me to refer to a lesser, tighter defined, group of weapons, BTW, than what we've all proceeded to address, which is fine and dandy by me, but just pointing it out. There are edged weapons that are purely ceremonial (etc.); some of us just feel that many get improperly lumped into this category. There are two common reasons for this mislumping that I'm aware of: 1/ the lightness and thin-ness of many blades seems unfightingly flimsy to the modern N American, including most modern N American martial artists. But it seems to me that the fact of the matter is the African of the past often preferred a fast, unwearying, light blade, whose thin-ness will cut right to the bone on a good, well-made cut. 2/ Some have features that may seem useless, etc. when you think of modern European style academic sword ("sword"?) fighting ("fighting"?) where there is no sheild, and the sword is used for parrying (I believe the real existance of this style outside sport/training and formal duels is highly questionable; all I read points to Europeans ceasing to make sheilds, but continuing to use them, and even deliberately carry them, in the form of other objects; gloves, lanterns, capes, and hats have all been designed specifically as sheilds, but I digress; imagine!). But in traditional Africa (as with old Europe; the rest of the old, "true" if you will, "West") you fight with shields, and some shapes are especially designed for that. The 'Zande mambele I've mentioned (which is much larger and more curved than the Fang/Koto rank marker [?] one we've been shown) are such a sword. They are for reaching around shields with. I rarely meet an American who can grasp their proper use, so foreign to the fighting styles popular/respected in N America, and in a way that's a good thing, which brings me to another point I've wanted to make about having odd weapons; the enemy can't grab them from you and instantly competently use them against you. Sure, if he takes them home and has time to study them, he'll likely either figure them out or make something else from the metal, but I mean, actually in the fight (and this has to do with some sheath designs, too; ask a N Plains American Indian why their traditional knife sheath takes in most of the handle; that's the reason they cite; it makes it hard for your enemy to grab your knife and use it against you; it keeps it in place when you're climbing, riding, etc. too, but that's not what they go right to to explain it....).
Just to complicate matters though, I've seen a fair bit of armour in traditional African settings. Ashante soldiers in chainmail (ditto Somali soldiers), Sudannic cavalry in quilted armour (much more effective than one might think, especially when you remember they used fibres that were especially hard to cut on purpose), an Akan-seeming soldier fetish wearing similar quilted armour. The existance of armour that will stop sword X though in no way implies sword X was not for fighting within that same culture at that same time; the PURPOSE of armour is to protect you; it does its job, and by no means every weapon is designed to deal with it, and it's a tough nut to crack, even with a weapon made to pierce it.
A .32 gun in the pocket ("for fun; he keep a razor in his shoe....") will not pierce any decent body armour (or a 'phone book); it's certainly still a weapon; a very viable, and even common, weapon in modern N American culture.
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Old 16th April 2005, 04:49 PM   #22
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As I have already post the scorpion I might as well do the snake or often called a hunga munga among other names.I prefer the snake this from the same extensive areas as the scorpion.Tim
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Old 16th April 2005, 05:44 PM   #23
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Question African weapons non-functional ?

Ariel,

Permit me to disagree with your statement that African weapons are only ornamental. It's not because they have a shape we (Westerners) don't recognize as functional, that these weapons won't do the job.

Some African weapons are indeed ceremonial or ornamental, I agree. But, like Tom said, others were made for a specific purpose. Maybe strange to us, be even so...

Tom, when talking about the Zande sabre, you probably meant this one :



Just for the record : this sabre knife is not called 'mambele' but 'MAMBELI'. The 'mambele' is the sickle knife of the Mangbetu (as I showed earlier) also known as 'trumbash'.

To be correct the big knife, I'm showing above, was used by the Bandia- or Boa-tribes in Congo.

The big sabre knife measures 83 cm, in a straight line from the tip of the blade to the bottom of the handle. The inner curve is very sharp, as is the broader top of the blade (both edges). These were used, as Tom stated correctly, to hit an opponent using a shield. I wouldn't advise anyone to try to grab it by the point. The outer edge of the blade is 5 mm thick, giving the blade its strength. The crescent-shaped piece near the handle had a leather strap tied to it, which was fastened a the loop on the bottom of the handle. In this way, the weapon was secured in the user's hand. This is functional, no ?
The warriors using these knives carried big, woven shield. No body armor was used. I don't think these warriors bothered with fencing. They just tried to hit each other above and round the shield.

The smaller knife, on the other hand, with a similar shape and of a much smaller dimension (41 cm) was used by elder men. This is a ceremonial type of weapon. Still, one can use it hit someone with it. But I don't think is was made for that purpose. It's more an emblem of seniority.
I'm not sure this one is from the same tribe, as this type of weapon was used by a number of tribes in a vast area.

And for all those 'African freaks' (like me ), here's the site to look :

www.mambele.be
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Old 16th April 2005, 05:49 PM   #24
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Flavio, Tim,

What do you think of this one :





This is a throwing knife from the Zulgo-tribe living in East-Sudan.

It's 53,5 cm long.
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Old 16th April 2005, 06:57 PM   #25
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Hello Freddy,According to C.Spring African Arms And Armour.British museum publication.The snake is called a 'sai' serpent and the scorpion a 'muder' by the Ingessana of the Blue Nile province,Sudan.I should imagine your last post is a snake.Tim
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Old 16th April 2005, 07:23 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freddy
[snip]

Just for the record : this sabre knife is not called 'mambele' but 'MAMBELI'. The 'mambele' is the sickle knife of the Mangbetu (as I showed earlier) also known as 'trumbash'.

To be correct the big knife, I'm showing above, was used by the Bandia- or Boa-tribes in Congo.

The big sabre knife measures 83 cm, in a straight line from the tip of the blade to the bottom of the handle. The inner curve is very sharp, as is the broader top of the blade (both edges). These were used, as Tom stated correctly, to hit an opponent using a shield. I wouldn't advise anyone to try to grab it by the point. The outer edge of the blade is 5 mm thick, giving the blade its strength. The crescent-shaped piece near the handle had a leather strap tied to it, which was fastened a the loop on the bottom of the handle. In this way, the weapon was secured in the user's hand. This is functional, no ?
The warriors using these knives carried big, woven shield. No body armor was used. I don't think these warriors bothered with fencing. They just tried to hit each other above and round the shield.



Hi Freddy,

These mambeles are neat weapons, but I do have to disagree with the idea that they're totally unique to central Africa. Even ignoring the Ethiopian (etc) shotels, they look like they're functionally quite similar to Japanese and Indonesian sickles (kama and arit respectively). Unless the mambele is so front-heavy that you have to swing it like a pick-axe, there's probably quite a bit that you can do with it. For instance, you can swing it like a pick (stab with the tip), hook and slice with it (cut with the inner and outer edges), and use the outer hook to hook things out of the way to make an opening (basically, use a backstroke with the hook to move a blade or shield out of the way, then, slam the tip down through the opening). If that hook is sharpened on the short edge, it would make a decent gut hook.

Also, the fact that these blades have knuckle guards suggests that they're worried about getting their fingers lopped. To me, that suggests some basic "fencing" was going on. In other words, these may be more sophisticated than they look.

Anyway, there's a lot of diversity in the shape of kamas and arits, and it might be worth investigating karate or silat books for ideas about other possible strokes.

Thanks for showing them, and thanks for the website.

Fearn
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Old 16th April 2005, 07:31 PM   #27
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I'd also post this image of what I regard as the epitome of the "weird Central African knife"--this knife from the Yanzi, and 30 cm long. The image is from www.mambele.be.

Comments about functionality?

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Old 16th April 2005, 08:39 PM   #28
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Of the ones that really are cermonial, some are rank markers for traditional government officials (ie "chiefs" etc.) and are borne by them or their sword bearers for civil (or now usually tribal, the traditional governments having mostly given way to "Western" style federal beaurocracies in at least some degree) occasions and ceremonies. Many are used as "fetishes"; conduits/summoning devices for devine/supernatural/dead beings/persons. I hadn't heard of them being used to attack such beings before, but it makes sense in terms of the customs of other cultures and my own interactions with such beings; they can be frightened of a sword. Some may be used for animal sacrifice, though I've seen that done ordinary knives/swords. Others may be used in scarification ceremonies, though now days one hears of those being done with broken bottles or whatever other blades; I imagine that traditionally there'd've been particular blades.

Last edited by tom hyle : 16th April 2005 at 08:43 PM. Reason: confusion
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Old 16th April 2005, 08:51 PM   #29
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RE: FEARN'S EXAMPLE.
I can hear a uniform "No comment....." followed by a long, long silence.This thingie is something New York decorators try to hang on your wall to give the apartment a " casual and funky ambience".
If this is a weapon, then an Art Deco vase is one too: both can cut accidentally..
I had a mambeli; it is a most awkward sword money can buy. It is heavy, grossly unbalanced, impossible to hold and the metal is of the poorest quality. But the blade decorations were quite fun, if one likes primitive art.
The idea of the "around the shield' attack had been floating around for quite some time and discredited time after time after time. I would advise the proponents to actually try it using a garbage bin cover in place of a shield.
I did: it was totally useles from the functional point of view but my wife almost died laughing.
Central African swords are great pieces of primitive art, on a par with Benin bronze and kente cloth.But as weapons they are grossly inferior to virually everything coming from Europe and Asia
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Old 17th April 2005, 03:19 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fearn
Comments about functionality?
Fearn


Well, this photo illustrates why we all heard about machete massacres in Africa, but never about "the night of fat mambeles"...
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