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Old 11th April 2011, 11:22 AM   #1
Mefidk
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Default Kaskara for comment

I picked this up at a local arms fair at the weekend. This is only my second kaskara and I think number 7 that I have seen first hand, but it seems to be a very nicely produced weapon. Following from a previous kaskara thread here I wonder if this is another Darfur kaskara. Judging from the colour and oxidation I think there is quite a lot of silver in hilt decoration, but no harlequin pattern.

I find the blade rather interesting. I thought at first it was a larger blade ground down to kaskara form, but it has also been suggested by another forumite that it is a German 19C blade (the hilt I assume is early 20C). There is a small ricasso and both sides of the blade have two horizontal lines which I assume mark the forte as was, but these are just residual marks. No other marks that I can find on the blade which is 94cm long and 4.5cm wide at the base.

More pictures here.

So I'm wondering if there is anyway to guess where this blade comes from, and whether the lack of stamps or writing is due to them not being there, or past overcleaning? How much work was required to 'make' the kaskara from the original blade - or have I got it completely wrong and the blade was made this way from the start?

Chris
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Old 11th April 2011, 11:52 AM   #2
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Beautiful! The blade is certainly better then the usual blades made in sudan so i guess its european. I really hope to own a complete kaskara like this one someday perhaps in the near future.

Congrats
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Old 11th April 2011, 02:30 PM   #3
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Wonderful piece - love these when they are clad in silver or even gold!
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Old 11th April 2011, 03:49 PM   #4
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As I'm the one who suggested 19th century German I may as well chip in.

The blade is in my opinion a normal export pattern in that this type turns up enough in kaskara that they don't appear to be one-off imports. I would assume it would be from Solingen. Solingen makers exported heavily to the Sudanese market and specifically for kaskara. While the main makers I'm familiar with were Kull and Clauberg there would have been 9 major makers in Solingen at the time. Not every batch of blades seems to have featured stamps or markings. 94cm is a pretty standard size for kaskara blades, I assume overall it is about 1.1-1.2 meters? These nicely made, wide fullered blades turn up occasionally as what I think are genuine European imports and quite often as cruder local copies. You've got the good kind.

The ricasso on this is pretty normal and is just the base of the blade left as is and not ground to an edge. Nothing particularly odd about it just not all that common, I have seen them before - for example here's one from the sold archive at Oriental Arms. http://oriental-arms.com/item.php?id=1221

So in summary, definitely European, I think made for export pattern just based on circumstances and that I've seen others of a very similar form and the ricasso is just how it was hilted up. Just my opinion of course. Stephen or some of the other guys more heavily involved in kaskara research can, I'm sure, add more.
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Old 11th April 2011, 06:10 PM   #5
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Yes I agree - very common to have European blades on these swords.
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Old 11th April 2011, 10:28 PM   #6
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Mefidk,

Very nice sword. I can't add more about the blade. However, due to the "tassel" and general (excellent) decoration on the handle, I'd place it from Kassala. Could very well be in the 1910-20 period. I have one very similiar attached with that provenance. Sorry I couldn't select just one picture.

Best,
Ed
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Old 11th April 2011, 10:38 PM   #7
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Sorry, can't get to photp to attach. Its in my Sword and Knife Makers of Kassala paper in the archive. P.6, Fig. 2 Hadendawa Sword.
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Old 12th April 2011, 06:23 AM   #8
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Thanks for the appreciative remarks folks

Iain: I hadn't realised that there was so much trade that so many makers produced blades specially for the Sudanese market. Was it just German makers or did the other European bladesmiths have a share in the market? I guess the British were not too keen on arming the Sudanese at the time

The oriental arms sword is a very close match for this - thanks for the link. Yes, 109cm is the total length. I was surprised by the length because my other has a 84cm locally made blade (I guess this is kind of the Sudanese equivalent of the Indian armoury tulwar). The others I've seen have all been of the same basic type. I guess that I have just not been lucky enough to see any good quality swords before.

Ed: Thanks, great info. I managed to find the paper ( here if anyone is interested http://www.vikingsword.com/ethsword/hunley/kassala.pdf ) - an excellent and very useful work btw.
Certainly does look like there are strong similarities between mine, yours and the oriental arms sword. Do I take it that you are suggesting that this style of decoration was produced exclusively in Kassala, or is the style more general?

Chris
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Old 12th April 2011, 07:47 AM   #9
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Chris,

As far as I know kaskara imported blades tend to be German. There are I think, a number of factors in this. The main one being that Solingen as a blade center by this point was industrialized and simply the biggest blade production center in Europe. It still accounts for 90% of all knives made in Germany even today!

I am not sure why Solingen zeroed in on takouba and kaskara blades but they seem to be the main folks in the trade. Italian blades tend to show up in nimcha and other coastal types. Wilkinson made patterns to order for Ethiopia, which were supplemented by Solingen products as well. Essentially Solingen were the big players and covered just about every market. I've often wondered if this flurry of export activity was due to a reduced need inside Europe for military pattern swords. With a large number of makers based in a single city I would imagine their production capacity far outstripped regional and national needs, so they had to look farther afield. Many period travelers note the European blades for sale in the Sahel and quite a few specifically mention German blades, not other countries.

While I'm more familiar with the takouba situation on the western side of the Sahel, generally speaking there was a massive import market for European manufactured goods such as needles and other products that the Europeans had industrialized at this point. The cost of manufacturing was so divergent between the Sahel and Europe that even when factoring in transport the European product could often essentially undercut the locally made item. This doesn't apply perhaps so much to swords but illustrates in general the trade relationship and level of integration between Europe and the Sahel.

About length, this varies as you've already seen. Some European blades are shorter, some are longer. Same with the native blades. Many of the native blades, particularly older ones, are by no means "bad" quality. They must have performed just fine at the time. They're is some resemblance to munitions grade talwars in that the large number of locally produced blades fulfilled a need among the average tribesman to own a kaskara. I would assume the imports were reserved for those with rank, money and social status.
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Old 12th April 2011, 11:31 PM   #10
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Chris,

I think the tassel is stylistically of the Hadendawa. However, I can't say that they were made exclusively in Kassala. Could have originated in other sword making areas of Eastern Sudan, primarily in Atbara. But I have seen high end Atbara swords with the harlequin silver handle and no tassel. Atbara sword makers would serve both a Nile Valley tribes as well as the Hadendawa market. All this said, I'd bet on it being from Kassala.

Regards,
Ed
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Old 15th April 2011, 09:00 AM   #11
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Hi Ed,

Few questions if I may, I'd always associated the silvered/metal domed ;pommel kaskara with Darfur. Would that region still have been furnished by cutlers from the eastern Sudan, at Kassala and Atbara? Maybe in an analogous situation to the western Sahara were most mounting was carried out in the larger Hausa cities.

Second point I wanted to raise was about the tassel. Is this a fairly recent addition? I've seen both these cloth tassels and leather braided thongs. Older swords I often see neither - although perhaps that's just due to loss of material over time.
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Old 15th April 2011, 11:04 PM   #12
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Iain,

I don't think I've inspected any Kaskara known to have been made before the Mahdiya. My guess it that before the British ended the Khalifa's reign in 1899 most blades were either imported as you describe, or of locally wrought iron or wood. After the British took over good quality steel was readily available especially along the railroads at Atbara.

The Khalifa, from Western Sudan, concentraated most of the tribes in Omdurman so he could keep an eye on them. Also, there was an armory in Omdurman during the Khalifa's rule, and I imagine a lot of swords were made or reworked there from captured British and Eqyptian weapons. No dodubt a lot of design motifs were shared, but any one purchaser probaably preferred the traditional motifs of his tribe to exhibit an identity.

Keep in mind that sword smiths and silver smiths are completely different crafte, technically and socially. Silver workers were held in higher esteme. Were no doubt more wide spread than sword smiths. Also, silver fittings were really "after market" items as the sword smith delivered a sword with simple rough wooden grips and silver mountings could have been attached virtually anywhere and remote from blade manufacture. Even the scabbards were made in a different leather market, The purchaser would buy a sword with plain handle and scabbard and take them to the silver smith of outfitting as he choose and could afford. But that leaves open the question as to where (in what craft shop) the Hadendowa tassel was actually affixed.

I have seen tassels on swords of Western Sudan (like the fine "Ali Dinar" piece on a previous thread), but they were attached to the handle with a cord 8-10 inches long. The Hadendawa tassles, always black, are a part of the handle. Can't say if they are a recent innovation, but I would assume that they are traditional to the Mahdiya Period. The Hadendawa traditionally used spears and the hooked knife in the bush and maybe adopted the sword in the Mahdiwa, although I can't say that with any certainty.

Iain, I'm not sure I answered your questions, but the alternative is to say "I don't know".

Regards,
Ed
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Old 16th April 2011, 10:40 AM   #13
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Ed,

Many thanks, that's about as good a explanation as I could hope for.

The separation of metal workers based on specific material is something I'm familiar with from the Hausa. At least there you have castes based on iron/steel working and white metals (silver, tin, brass, copper etc.).

Part of the reason I'm asking so many questions is that in some sources such as Barth, he talks about a large number of blades being imported to Kano, hilted and reexported out, in part, to the Sudan. However as the term at the time included a rather more massive area than the current country it's hard to know just how accurate his report is and just how far this would have extended. I'm trying to find out what I can about the overlap in these regions between takouba and kaskara and a large part of that is obviously the hilts.

The notes about the silver fittings being more or less after market finishing is rather fascinating for me. Given the somewhat close connections between the eastern and western Sahel in terms of metalsmith casts and practices gives me some insight into how the two sword forms were manufactured differently (brass hilted takouba being impossible to finish in a half way stage due to the integral nature of the brass to the overall hilt design).

I'm not sure why I thought the tassels were a latter addition, perhaps the older blades I've seen in museum and private collections just had them removed, or aging took a toll on the organic material.

Your insights are fascinating as always. Thanks for sharing.

Best,

Iain
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Old 27th April 2011, 02:14 PM   #14
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Iain & Ed - thanks so much for the information and insights, its really fantastic that you are willing to so readily share this information.

If I might push my luck a little further and ask what may be a couple of naive questions. Firstly I wondered about the weapon production in Kassala and the arms trade in the area in general. Kassala is very close to Eritraea and so I wondered how far east the use of the kaskara would be expected? Or was it simply that the manufacture of arms was a big export business in these areas and kaskaras went west and shotels were made there too and went east?

Secondly, this whole region appears to have had a very turbulant history, except for Ethiopia which as far as I understand it has had pretty stable boundaries. So I would I be right in thinking that Ethiopea has a more easily traceable weaponary than the rest of the region because of the amazing longevity of the Solomonic Dynasty (1270-1974)? For instance I believe I read somewere that the shotel can be traced back perhaps as far as 4th centuary BC. If so perhaps there are some more solid delineations as we move into Ethiopea? As a newly interested collector in north African arms it might be nice to feel that there was something solid in the shifting sands of human migrations in the region to use as a reference point

Chris
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Old 28th April 2011, 11:31 PM   #15
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Chris,

Yours are very intriguing and tough questions. I'm sure Iain and others have a greater depth of knowledge, but I'll try to draw from my limited perspective.

I think we haave to conside that Sudan and Ethiopia have separate cultural and religious foundations and were mostly enenies. Trade in slaves and goods was fairly common across the border in the areasa decent rainfall near the Atbara River. Sudan was and is based on the Nile Valley and has influence from Arabia beginning in the 16th Century when Arabs came into the country to teach Islam. Ethiopia really started historically in the lowlands near Eritrea with Axum, etc and didn't reach the highlands until later. I think that both cultures were grounded in agriculture.

The Hadendawa who are the Kassala swordsmiths are part of the large Beja, a separate ethnic group with a long history in the area from Kassala throught he Red Sea Hills and into the uplands to the East. The Beni Amr are related Beji peoples from mainly the lower lands of Eritrea. Both are pastoralists specializing in camels. The sword of Afar from the Afar Depression of Ethiopia and Eritrea is more like the shotal than the kaskara.

I think the traditional weapon of both Sudan and the Hadendawa were spears, but different styles.. I don't know when the Kaskara become the main battle weapon, but I'd guess around the time of the Mahdia in the 1840s. Others would know this better than me. I'd like to learn more about this history myself.

By tradition, apparently the Hadendawa become dedicated weapons makers at the request of Othman Digna, their war leader during the Mahdia. They apparently used Kaskaras then, but not exclusively. The 1939 version of the film Four Feathers shows some good scenes of authentic Hadendawa weapons.

The blacksmith market in Kassala was build in the 1940s by Italians from Ethiopia. The export of Kassala weapons to other regions apparently started in the 1960. The Hadendawa had a traditional double edged hooked knife/short sword called a soa'tal as I recall. I show a photograph on one with its belt on a post.

Bottom line. I think that the Beja "tribes" would have been more influenced by Ethiopian weaponry than the Arabized Sudanese who looked to the west and south down the Nile. Wouldn't be surprised if the Kaskara came to Sudan from the Fulani/ Nigeria since Sudan was the major pilgrimage route from West Africa to Arabia and not from the east.

Hope this doesn't confuse you further.
Take care,
Ed
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Old 28th April 2011, 11:34 PM   #16
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Chris,

Yours are very intriguing and tough questions. I'm sure Iain and others have a greater depth of knowledge, but I'll try to draw from my limited perspective.

I think we have to consider that Sudan and Ethiopia have separate cultural and religious foundations and were mostly enenies. Trade in slaves and goods was fairly common across the border in the areas of decent rainfall near the Atbara River. Sudan was and is based on the Nile Valley and has influence from Arabia beginning in the 16th Century when Arabs came into the country to teach Islam. Ethiopia really started historically in the lowlands near Eritrea with Axum, etc and didn't reach the highlands until later. I think that both cultures were grounded in agriculture.

The Hadendawa who are the Kassala swordsmiths are part of the larger Beja, a separate ethnic group with a long history in the area from Kassala throught he Red Sea Hills and into the uplands to the East. The Beni Amr are related Beji peoples from mainly the lower lands of Eritrea. Both are pastoralists specializing in camels. The sword of Afar from the Afar Depression of Ethiopia and Eritrea is more like the shotal than the kaskara.

I think the traditional weapon of both Sudan and the Hadendawa were spears, but different styles.. I don't know when the Kaskara become the main battle weapon, but I'd guess around the time of the Mahdia in the 1840s. Others would know this better than me. I'd like to learn more about this history myself.

By tradition, apparently the Hadendawa become dedicated weapons makers at the request of Othman Digna, their war leader during the Mahdia. They apparently used Kaskaras then, but not exclusively. The 1939 version of the film Four Feathers shows some good scenes of authentic Hadendawa weapons.

The blacksmith market in Kassala was build in the 1940s by Italians from Ethiopia. The export of Kassala weapons to other regions apparently started in the 1960. The Hadendawa had a traditional double edged hooked knife/short sword called a soa'tal as I recall. I show a photograph on one with its belt on a post.

Bottom line. I think that the Beja "tribes" would have been more influenced by Ethiopian weaponry than the Arabized Sudanese who looked to the west and south down the Nile. Wouldn't be surprised if the Kaskara came to Sudan from the Fulani/ Nigeria since Sudan was the major pilgrimage route from West Africa to Arabia and not from the east.

Hope this doesn't confuse you further.
Take care,
Ed
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Old 29th April 2011, 12:09 AM   #17
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I think Ed gave a pretty good stab at this. I'll add a few points.

The relative political stability of Ethiopia combined with a habit of outsourcing blade manufacture in the (caveat) 19th century, means that for a certain period the shifting sands, shift, well a bit less. Otherwise you can find kaskara even crossing over, include, if memory serves correct in church iconography/wall painting.

Kaskara use extended into Bornu, so it certainly went west, Ethiopian weaponry I think stayed a bit more bottled up, partly due to cultural/religious differences and partly just due to geographical factors. Natural barriers and the type of trade going through Ethiopia from the Sahel.

The date of popular kaskara use I also have no idea about, but I have often wondered if the Mahdist period ignited some interest in the type due to association with the sword of Mohammed and religious connections with swords in Islam.

As Ed noted Kassala was relatively late to the party in terms of being an arms center. Omdurman was noted for mail product and other military gear during the Mahdi years, however earlier than that less is known at least to me, about Sudan specifically.

What I do have to go on are a few period sources like Barth reporting on the Kano re-export business. I still have a problem understanding why less of the same trade blades in kaskara turn up in takouba and also why kaskara hilts don't seem to be know at all in Hausa areas. Sometimes you get cross over - I'm attaching a Peter Kull bladed takouba with re profiled tip that sold in Germany a little while back (unfortunately not to me). THis is the exact same blade as found in kaskara, just profiled as a takouba. However these are few and far between in my experience. However the vast majority of takouba and kaskara blades don't really match up, particularly the wide fullered kaskara - making me question if the form was carried into Sudan from the west. I would still subscribe to the Mamluk influence theory and export of weaponry from Cairo. Even maille from Cairo was showing up in Egypt so any weapons trade certainly went both ways.

In short, you don't really find a spot where the sands don't shift a bit in the Sahel. You have two wildly different hilt types in the kaskara and takouba, that seem to have shared some common sources for blades, you have long and well used trade routes to propagate forms outside of their source zones and you have similar styles of warfare and large empires/kingdoms bumping into each other. In short it's a highly enjoyable mess.

Best,
Iain
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Old 29th April 2011, 04:52 PM   #18
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Guys, thats really fantastic information. Thank you. I'm not more confused, but I guess I'm beginning to see just how much there is to know that I don't know ...but that's one of the great attractions of these weapons - lots to find out and no easy way to do it
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Old 29th April 2011, 05:57 PM   #19
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...a very interesting discussion.

One key difference between the kaskara and the takouba is the tang:

Kaskaras have a shorter, blunt tang which has a hole for an iron peg to hold the hilt assembly together. Like a mamluk sword.

Takoubas have a longer tang which is peened at the pommel. Like a European sword.

While I was researching my talk on the Kaskara for the Arms and Armour Society I found that it had been around for a long time: this 1821 image of a King of Sennar is the earliest depiction of which I am aware, although I know of earlier descriptions.
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Old 29th April 2011, 06:14 PM   #20
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Great illustration Stephen and nice to have a date attached as well. Very much appreciated that you posted it.

The hilting is one of the main aspects I was getting at which differentiate the two types. As Ed was noting kaskara mounting could took place in a rough form for later finishing. That's simply not possible with takouba. The use of substantial, balance oriented pommels is another aspect where the two types are very different. As you note the kaskara method seems directly related to Mamluk weaponry. So, as much as blade sources may overlap the relationship between the two weapons seems to start and end with blades and that's about all they have in common.

By the way I sent you a PM, not sure if you go it as I hadn't heard back yet.
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