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Old 18th May 2011, 06:28 PM   #1
stephen wood
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Default Kaskara with French Inscription

Now here is something I've never seen before. We have seen quite a few with Arabic inscriptions but nothing like this - a vertical inscription in French. The blade is marked with W. Clauberg and the standing Knight mark - after 1847. There is also what might be a representation of a woman with long hair.

Reading down, the inscription appears to say:

"Envin orguette dans l'espace une ami soeur qui passe sont ils perdus"

...which doesn't make a lot of sense but it's quite hard to read in places.

For all I know it's a well known text - it might have been inscribed by someone who copied it without understanding it. The way in which the words are broken up supports this.

I haven't done much in the way of transcription, only picked out odd words.

So, how does a (quite old) Kaskara get to have a French inscription? If it was put on post capture the only French speakers serving with the Gordon Relief Expedition were the Canadian Voyageurs...
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Old 18th May 2011, 08:12 PM   #2
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Many European trade blades in North Africa.
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Old 18th May 2011, 08:15 PM   #3
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It is indeed unusual to see a French blade in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, however there was a degree of French presence there, not to mention of course and obviously to the west. The so called 'Fashoda Incident' in what is now Kodok took place in 1898, and though settled diplomatically between the British and French over these territories, the distinct presence of French forces in the regions over a considerable period cannot be discounted.
Clauberg of Solingen was of course a known provider of blades to the French in the second half 19th century.

The guard on this is 'old' but most likely of early 20th century. These blades were remounted many times and the blade may have been handed down for generations.

Dennee, crossed posts, but excellent observation, the European blades were well established there as well as serving as prototypes for native made versions.
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Old 18th May 2011, 11:38 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
It is indeed unusual to see a French blade in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, however there was a degree of French presence there, not to mention of course and obviously to the west.
Yes Jim
even, a sensible degree for French presence, in Egypt, and Ethiopia (1897),
i.e. the railways in both countries, were erected by French engineers
- Clot Bey ( 1793 - 1868) was a famous medic during the time of Paşa Méhémet Ali
- Süleyman Paşa (17881 - 1860.), former French officer from Napoleon army, who became Egyptian army Chief (1833)
- I remember have saw in Railways museum Cairo, a picture for a man, and his name was "Abdallah Al Fransawi (the French) Bey"

in that time, every body was armed, either because it was part of the uniform for their functions, per "prestige" or per necessity, to warranty in own security
nothing strange to find in Egypt/Sudan/Ethiopia/Somalia, sword blades from Europe, or even from France

à +

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Old 19th May 2011, 03:05 AM   #5
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Hi Dom,
Thank you so much for adding more on the French presence in these areas, and absolutely, nothing unusual in seeing the weapons used by the French of course in degree in these areas. I think perhaps better worded would be, unusual to see French blades in kaskara.

All the best,
Jim
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Old 19th May 2011, 09:12 AM   #6
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The only thing I can add to this, is the possibility this could be from the French action and following Colonial period in Chad (1891-1920s)? The type would certainly used in those areas. That seems more logical to me than anything to do with the British Sudan.
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Old 19th May 2011, 02:45 PM   #7
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Only by reading I think there is a mistake in the transcription: in fact, it should be 'une ame soeur' ( 'a sister soul' in English) not 'une ami soeur' (that doesn't mean anything). May be if there are other such mistakes corrected, the text would mean something.
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Old 19th May 2011, 03:05 PM   #8
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Yes, I finally get it:
'En vain on guette dans l'espace
une ame soeur qui passe.
Sont-ils perdus?'
This is poetry, probably verses from a French poem. It means in English:
'In vain, we watch out in the space
for a soul sister to pass.
Are they lost?'

This is very romantic and intriguing. If I was daring, this sword could have belonged to the famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud :-) Remember, he was an arm dealer while staying in Yemen and Abyssinia (close to Sudan) during ten years.

best
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Old 19th May 2011, 05:39 PM   #9
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Excellent suggestion Iain! and I am surprised that after all our discussions on these areas that I completely forgot about Chad! It seems clear that areas of more extensive French presence colonially would more likely provide provenance for such a blade on a kaskara. These areas, in fact most of Africa, was a virtual hotbed of geopolitical colonial flux in the latter part of the 19th century.

It would seem that a poetic French verse, possibly from this esteemed French poet may likely have served metaphorically as an inscription on this French blade as well suggested by Yuanzhumin (superb job on that ttanslation BTW! ) . In all the political alliances, intrigues and conflicts of these complicated times of high adventure, this sword's blade presents some outstanding possibilities. It would be most daring indeed to suggest that the blade was in fact belonging to Rimbaud (1854-1891) however if he was as noted, one of the many arms vendors supplying arms in Yemen and Abyssinia it certainly strengthens the possibility of the words being his. Well placed and exciting suggestion Yuanzhumin!!

All the very best,
Jim
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Old 19th May 2011, 09:57 PM   #10
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...more and more interesting

So Rimbaud was there during the Mahdiya?
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Old 20th May 2011, 01:04 AM   #11
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As briefly as I can put it, he was in Harar, Abyssinia 1884-1891 as a merchant dealing in coffee and weapons.
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Old 20th May 2011, 03:08 AM   #12
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The text on the blade is very easy to read, at least for a native French speaker, and is in good French. The text seems to have been copied on the blade by someone that knew perfectly its meaning in French, because he added the drawing/representation of a long haired woman – the idealized woman the man that copied the text on the sword is dreaming about. Obviously, this is a local sword, but the owner or at least the guy that wrote/copied the poem on it must have been a French and mostly a French expatriate, and a cultivated and romantic one. Not the average adventurer nor the regular colonial soldier that we could find in these areas.
To put things in a different perspective:
-Don’t forget that the country called Sudan today was formerly an English colony but that it is only a fraction - the eastern fraction - of what was called Sudan in colonial time. In fact, you can see hereafter that the Sudan area was also made of a Western part, that was French, which have evolved in few modern countries with post-colonial names (Mali, Niger, Chad…).
-Concerning Arthur Rimbaud that spent 10 years in the Africa horn, here after an extract from this website (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/rimbaud.htm):
Rimbaud arrived in 1880 in Aden after short sojourns in Java and Cyprus. Rimbaud made business travels in modern-day Yemen, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and walked occasionally hundreds of miles at the head of trading caravans through dangerous lands. He was the first European to penetrate into the country of Ogadain. His expertise and learning of the language, religion, and culture of local peoples was acknowledged when the French Geographical Society deemed his commercial and geographical report on East Africa worthy of publication.
More infos on Rimbaud: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Rimbaud
About the French Sudan:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Sudan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Sudan
More about the French Somaliland where stayed Rimbaud:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Somaliland
Best
Nicolas
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Old 20th May 2011, 03:09 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Excellent suggestion Iain! and I am surprised that after all our discussions on these areas that I completely forgot about Chad! It seems clear that areas of more extensive French presence colonially would more likely provide provenance for such a blade on a kaskara. These areas, in fact most of Africa, was a virtual hotbed of geopolitical colonial flux in the latter part of the 19th century.
Hi Jim
it's should not be simple ... because ..
before 1890, these territories were African Empires, then
- 1890: The Lake Chad has been divided into three areas - British, German and French.
- 1900: Rabah (slave trader, having an army) and Lamy (French Officer, having an army)
are both killed during the Battle of Kousseri, which marks the beginning of the conquest of territory by the French army
and the end of independence in this part of the African Sahel.
The population of Ouaddai resists until 1909 while the North (Borkou Ennedi and Tibesti) remains under French military administration until 1965.

So, blades trade did not result from the French colonization it was a previous business practice

By 1905, most of the area was under firm French control as a part of French Sudan.
In early 1959, French Sudan (which changed its name to the Sudanese Republic) and Senegal united to become the Mali Federation.
(extracted from "Wikipedia" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mali)

very ... very complicated situation, who is a big part responsable for the present troubles ...

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Old 20th May 2011, 04:31 AM   #14
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Thank you so much Nicolas and Dom, for the clarification and patiently itemized notations on these indeed very complex situations. I really appreciate it when things are so well explained, and it really adds great perspective. It would seem that, rather than unusual to see a French blade on these swords, it is surprising not to see more!

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 20th May 2011, 07:03 AM   #15
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My point in mentioning Chad wasn't that the blade should be French - it's clearly German with the inscription added later by a Frenchman as Nicolas pointed it it must have been, but rather my point was I excepted we should look in areas that had French colonial presence to explain the inscription. Not to explain the blade as these German trade blades could be found all over the place and as Dom says didn't result from the colonization and are in fact not uncommon. Sadly I don't think the sword has any regional characteristics that can pin down a geographical location more closely.

That said, I didn't know about the potential link with Rimbaud before and it is a very interesting idea, but just to play devil's advocate, and because I really don't know... Wouldn't a decent percentage of the French officer corp. engaged in the French Sudan have the education to use similar verse? I do think the Rimbaud idea though is quite valid just wondering if the poetry itself is of a nature to rule out other the many other educated Frenchmen in the area... I specifically mentioned Chad over the rest of the French Sudan because this territory would hold the most kaskara using peoples as opposed to modern day Mali or Niger where the takouba was common.

Great discussion guys, looking forward to what else may come to light.
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Old 20th May 2011, 08:00 AM   #16
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iain,
I think that all the officers in the French army at that time would have the cultural level to write this text on a sword. But not as many would have had the poetic mind to do it ! :-)
In France before the Revolution, aristocratic families were sending at least one of their sons into the army. After, it was difficult to avoid not being incorporated during the first Empire wars, when nearly half of the French male population died or was wounded fighting for Napoleon.
During the 19th cent, these military traditions went on, mostly at the time the French were building a colonial Empire. Fighting for France was largely seen as an honor, and many French intellectuals, authors, poets fought during the many wars we were involved in around the world or in Europe.
Rimbaud's father was a career officer in the French colonial army, Rimbaud himself joined the Dutch army in Indonesia for a short time. Then he lead an adventurous life in Africa, where I'm sure he had to be put in circumstances where he had to fight for his life.
It's certainly not the discipline of the army that attracted the more educated Frenchmen in the army but the adventure, a certain romantism and idealism, or simply the will to defend France when the country was endangered.
Here is a list of the french writers that died for France during the two last world wars only:
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_..._pour_la_France
Best
Nicolas
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Old 20th May 2011, 08:21 AM   #17
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Hi Nicolas,

That's what I figured more or less. If only there was a little more to the verses on the sword to tie it to Rimbaud! Might be interesting to see if there's any academics who specialize in his works who might be able to give an opinion if the style fits with Rimbaud? I read that at least some of his letters survive from the period he was in Africa.

Otherwise I have to say, the subject matter seems the sort of thing that would be on most solider's minds! Of course how it is expressed is far more eloquent than the average solider would come up with I'm sure.

Cheers,

Iain
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Old 20th May 2011, 05:30 PM   #18
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This really is a great discussion, and it really helps to have interactive observations to gain key perspective in evaluating a piece. Stephen, I must say I have been remiss in not acknowledging your input here, which has also been most helpful. I am always grateful for your posting these fascinating examples, and admire your willingness to place them here for us to learn from, and hope our observations are helpful in increasing your knowledge.

As Iain has noted, the fact that this is a German made blade, produced by a well known exporter of these times from Solingen, does correspond with the large number of blades found on kaskara throughout the Sudan. Also, as noted, the addition of this poetic verse in inscription was clearly done by a Frenchman and intended for a French sword. This of course suggests that the weapon was apparantly used by a Frenchman, and either the blade was mounted in Europe before arrival in French regions in Africa (as was sometimes done by Clauberg and other Solingen makers) or it was done by an outfitter in Africa furbishing swords intended for French use. There is no reason why such specifically French verse would be placed on a trade blade intended for other parties, and most certainly not on a blade intended for a Sudanese tribesman.

I am not familiar from Rimbaud, nor in fact had I ever heard of him until this thread, however, it does seem his writing was well known, especially probably among military men as he was military himself. Factor that into the established fact that he dealt in weapons in Abyssinia and probably throughout the region, and it does not seem unreasonable that his verse might appear on a French blade used by a Frenchman in these regions.

While it does seem paradoxical that wistful romantic notions would be in the minds of soldiers on campaign, or for that matter, any men far from home and loved ones in places where they are strangers....it is entirely a matter of fact and well known. Todays generations are more familiar with media driven views of machismo, bravado and coarse violence in action movies etc. though anyone who is a true student of martial arts or actually soldiers in service know that discipline, understanding and many more compassionate and humanistic qualities are at the base of thier actions. That too is paradoxical of course, but well known.
Most men who have been soldiers hold deeply these powerful emotions, and are reluctant to reveal them openly, but in those times, and obviously with the French, it is not at all surprising to see popularly known verse of this kind. As noted by Iain, it is not the kind of thing that would be placed on a blade in the field by a French soldier, but very much the kind of thing that when seen by a soldier, would be heartily accepted and used.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 23rd May 2011, 12:12 PM   #19
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...just a note on provenance - I acquired the sword from a dealer who bought it at a sale in the North of England. It was covered in rust and patina. He could see that there was some kind of inscription and partially cleaned it. He had expected the inscription to be in Arabic and was surprised to find what he did.


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Old 12th November 2011, 11:15 PM   #20
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...while we're waiting for the splendid Arabic script on another kaskara to be translated: I knew this would turn up eventually...

"Sont-ils perdus,

Ces jours où l'on espère,

Où chacun rêve sa chimère,

Les yeux à l'horizon tendus?

Sont-ils perdus?

En vain on guette dans l'espace

Une âme soeur qui passe,

Sont-ils perdus?
"


"Jours Perdus", by French chansonnier Gustave Nadaud (1820-93)

The sheet music is dated 1868.
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Old 13th November 2011, 12:23 AM   #21
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Emil Ludwig in his book "The Nile" says that the Mahdi and his men wore swords of the time of Charles V during their raids to the Maghreb - French blade = Crusades? Probably!!!
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Old 13th November 2011, 11:32 AM   #22
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Very interesting Stephen. I think this opens up the scope of possibilities again, rather than tying the sword to a known historical figure. Seems like the kind of thing any officer or French merchant could be familiar with. For those curious here's the wikipedia link for the composer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Nadaud
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Old 13th November 2011, 01:02 PM   #23
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Just a small notice to the presence of Kaskara and French presence in the region:
Kaskaras were also used throughout the territory of Eritrea, which is bordering current Sudan - on one side, and former French Somalia - current Djibouti, on the other side. Djibouti, "French port", developped to supplying spot, place, where such swords dealers like Garabedian lived.
Regards,
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Old 13th November 2011, 05:27 PM   #24
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Well done Stephen!!!
I love it when these threads, especially with these kinds of anomalies come back with new information presented. I agree with Iain, trying to align a weapon directly to a historic figure specifically without documented provenance is usually unlikely, but as Martin has well noted, there are broader and more distinct possibilities in the regions mentioned.
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Old 13th November 2011, 11:46 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by regihis
French blade = Crusades? Probably!!!
few chance, to don't said ... hopeless to be in presence of "survivor" of the Middle Ages

the last crusade European was before 1300, and were a mess,
none more later than this date
at this date, the Europeans, have lost ALL their settlements in Middle East
obviously, this sword is not 500 years old, or even the blade

now, I agree with you, if you want to said,
the "Kaskara" (in general) has kept through centuries the style of European swords in Middle-Age

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Old 14th November 2011, 06:51 AM   #26
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remembering: navigation great until the background had a return of Jerusalem, which I said was that the blade may have been from the invasions of Charles V (1500-1558) to the Maghreb, not me who says it is Emil Ludwig , noting that he lived closer than us in time of the Mahdi
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Old 14th November 2011, 04:06 PM   #27
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The attribution of kaskara having Crusading period blades was a common Victorian assessment based entirely on the somewhat medieval style of the kaskara.

If you manage to find a properly authenticated kaskara blade from the 1500s I'd be interested to see it.

The vast majority of blades are from the 18-19th. Anyways regarding this particular sword all this speculation is really for nothing as the blade is clearly marked as a Clauberg and as the owner (Stephen) clearly states, that name along with the associated marks puts the date of manufacture after 1847.
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Old 14th November 2011, 04:10 PM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by regihis
remembering: navigation great until the background had a return of Jerusalem, which I said was that the blade may have been from the invasions of Charles V (1500-1558) to the Maghreb, not me who says it is Emil Ludwig , noting that he lived closer than us in time of the Mahdi
yes ...
but as mentionned clearly by our friend "stephen wood"
(respect, to have found a needle in a haystack - French proverb)

"En vain on guette dans l'espace
Une âme soeur qui passe,
Sont-ils perdus?"

"Jours Perdus", by French chansonnier Gustave Nadaud (1820-93)
The sheet music is dated 1868."
(it is written on the slip, that the author wrote the lyrics and music ...)

the stanzas of this poem was written in the nineteenth century,
that mean, the engraving of the blade cannot be done previously
more, the script used for the engraving,
isn't at all the style used with the sixteenth century, it's much more contemporary
after all the speculation are potential

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Old 14th November 2011, 04:53 PM   #29
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Even more important than the inscription... the blade is clearly marked as a Clauberg, it's a mid 19th century export pattern. No mystery and no crusades to see here.
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