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Old 31st August 2017, 09:40 AM   #1
Johan van Zyl
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Default African Dagger?

Hi friends! I got this dagger very recently and have not yet cleaned it, so my apologies for the slight rust on the blade. I'll give it the required TLC. It looks genuine and judging by the honest wear on the leather, it can't be recent. I think there's wood beneath the hilt leather. How the maker enveloped that hilt in the leather so that no overlapping is seen, beats me!

The scabbard even has a little leather cap over the tip.

The overall length of the dagger is 31 cm. I hope the pics turn out well enough for you to please help me to ID this dagger. I could get no clues from the previous owner.

Johan
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Old 31st August 2017, 08:41 PM   #2
Robert
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Johan, while I know little of nothing about the knife itself the leather covering the hilt was most likely made from the hide covering the tail of a cow. The hide would have been peeled off in one piece and tanned then stretched over the wooden hilt leaving no seem. If there is no seem in the scabbard either it was probably made using the same material stretched over a wooden core that would be removed after it dried and the tooling had been added. Any other information on this I will leave to those who know much more about this style of knife than I do.

Best,
Robert
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Old 1st September 2017, 08:33 AM   #3
Johan van Zyl
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Thank you, Robert, that sounds totally credible. Those makers probably developed a lot of skill by doing this technique many times over.

I'm thinking that these so-called African knives are hard to identify because they were crafted in a rural tribal society where there were no smiths catering for the needs of the tribe. It was every man for himself: you needed a knife - you made it! Conversely, in old Nepal you had the kamis who made kukris for their customers. They used a forge of sorts and employed assistents for the more menial tasks. I'm thinking they made kukri-making more of an industry than the makers of this African knife. In Indonesia the empus made kerisses likewise. I think the African tribal maker/craftsman only had what nature provided and what metal was available to make a dagger or knife, and then mostly for himself and probably a small number of friends less talented than he. So what we have then, is a relatively large number of makers, each putting his own signature style on his work.

What I've written above is all conjecture on my part. I don't have a collection of African blades for scrutiny and comparison. I hope forum members will set me straight. (But if I'm correct, it means African knives are very hard to pinpoint culturally and geographically. )

Johan
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Old 1st September 2017, 08:52 AM   #4
Pieje
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North Africa.
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Old 1st September 2017, 09:22 AM   #5
Iain
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Looks like the sort of small knife common to Mali and Niger, particularly the leatherwork strikes me as from that area.
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Old 1st September 2017, 12:20 PM   #6
Johan van Zyl
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Thank you, Pieje and Iain. Could you perhaps be so kind as to post a pic of one of your blades to show the resemblance?

Pieje, why do you believe this blade to be North African? Do you see features that help to identify it as such and no other? North Africa is a vast area.

Johan (gratefully)
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Old 1st September 2017, 01:07 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johan van Zyl
Thank you, Pieje and Iain. Could you perhaps be so kind as to post a pic of one of your blades to show the resemblance?

Pieje, why do you believe this blade to be North African? Do you see features that help to identify it as such and no other? North Africa is a vast area.

Johan (gratefully)


Hi Johan,

I'd have a go through the Pitts River Museum online collections. I don't really collect these myself, however I'm confident its from Northern Nigeria, Mali or Niger, generally speaking from a Hausa area.

See the link below for a similar example from Kano.
http://objects.prm.ox.ac.uk/pages/PRMUID78116.html
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Old 1st September 2017, 06:32 PM   #8
Pieje
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johan van Zyl
Thank you, Pieje and Iain. Could you perhaps be so kind as to post a pic of one of your blades to show the resemblance?

Pieje, why do you believe this blade to be North African? Do you see features that help to identify it as such and no other? North Africa is a vast area.

Johan (gratefully)


Same for me, I only collect central African knives. But I'm also confident yours is from above that region, thus North Africa. The use of leatherwork is a typical feature.

I had a look in the database of the Quai Branly Museum in Paris:
http://collections.quaibranly.fr/po...12-38a41b633408

More similar knives are in the database when searching for "Mali", "Niger", "Hausa" etc.
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Old 2nd September 2017, 11:48 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert
Johan, while I know little of nothing about the knife itself the leather covering the hilt was most likely made from the hide covering the tail of a cow. The hide would have been peeled off in one piece and tanned then stretched over the wooden hilt leaving no seem. If there is no seem in the scabbard either it was probably made using the same material stretched over a wooden core that would be removed after it dried and the tooling had been added. Any other information on this I will leave to those who know much more about this style of knife than I do.

Best,
Robert


As a leather worker I concur. Tails make excellent seamless scabbards and people have been using them for just that all over the world and all throughout history.

However with that comes a caution. It is more often than not (as in the vast majority of cases) that such scabbards are not tanned. Or at least not through-tanned. Which means it is effectively raw hide. So if the scabbard becomes exposed to moisture. It can rott, mold, and turn rancid... It's not pleasant.

I would suggest what ever box/drawer/display case it is kept in also have a desiccant. I might even suggest displaying it with the blade out of the scabbard and the scabbard packed with wool (a moisture wicking, insulating, and low odorous material).
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Old 2nd September 2017, 12:32 PM   #10
Johan van Zyl
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Iain and Pieje, you have convinced me that my knife originates from the general area you mentioned. And Helleri has added valuable observations concerning the leatherwork. I am very much obliged!

Johan
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Old 2nd September 2017, 12:38 PM   #11
Iain
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johan van Zyl
Iain and Pieje, you have convinced me that my knife originates from the general area you mentioned. And Helleri has added valuable observations concerning the leatherwork. I am very much obliged!

Johan


Not a problem, while I understand the desire to narrow down the attribution as much as possible, with fairly common and utilitarian items like this knife it can be hard to get something exact as the general form is found across a massive geographical area.
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