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Old 4th September 2017, 02:44 PM   #1
CNK1
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Default A nice kaskara

Hello everyone,

I've recently acquired some addition to my collection and the first piece I'll present is a nice kaskara sword from Sudan.

It would date from the mahdist war or maybe a little bit before.

I hope you will like this little new addition just for waiting the rest of the presentation

Friendly,
Clement
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Last edited by CNK1 : 5th September 2017 at 10:03 AM.
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Old 5th September 2017, 05:59 AM   #2
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The blade appears to have 5 fullers, which is an interesting and uncommon feature. I also like the thick silver inlay. Per previous discussion in this forum, the crossguard is of a style attributed to Darfur. I wonder however about the hilt and whether it is a more modern replacement.

Regards,
Teodor
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Old 5th September 2017, 08:00 AM   #3
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It is difficult to judge from the photos, butvthis appears to be a locally made blade.
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Old 5th September 2017, 08:28 AM   #4
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Better photos would help, but the blade could be European with the later addition of the half moon marks in Sudan (notice how the one mark overlaps the fuller). However, it could also be local. Always hard to tell without better photos or the blade in hand.

The crossguard is of high quality and the blade decoration is an interesting departure for the more commonly observed thuluth acid etching, again better photos would help in this case.

Unfortunately I also suspect the hilt is a more modern addition.

An interesting piece, but I have some doubts the entire piece is homogeneous to the Mahdist period.
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Old 5th September 2017, 09:36 AM   #5
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Hello,

thank's for your comm !

I will promptly post new pictures of this kaskara, don't have the time and good conditions to take nice pictures....

For the hilt, it look like really homogeneous with the rest of the blade so it could be a later addition but I think really old ?

Best regards,
Clement
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Old 5th September 2017, 04:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain

Unfortunately I also suspect the hilt is a more modern addition.

An interesting piece, but I have some doubts the entire piece is homogeneous to the Mahdist period.



You have some Egyptian woodworks in Suakin exactly like the hilt.
To me it's all good, Sudanese hilt and European blade.
Very original and unique piece!!

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Old 5th September 2017, 04:56 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kubur
You have some Egyptian woodworks in Suakin exactly like the hilt.
To me it's all good, Sudanese hilt and European blade.
Very original and unique piece!!



Have any images? I'm always happy to be wrong and certainly unusual ≠ 'fake' necessarily. But I'm a natural skeptic. certainly the hilt is not 'new' but i think the blade and cross guard pre date it.

I quite like the blade and it looks to display well. Certainly worth more research. Bits on the hilt look to be shell?
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Old 5th September 2017, 05:18 PM   #8
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Thank's again for your comm ! I just change picts which, I hope, are better

Thank's Kubur, I don't knew this area and this is a nice discover.

The little bit on the hilt are "shell's nacre", something unsurprisingly for a hilt which would be done in the red sea's coast area.

After all the blade and the cross guard can pre date the hilt, if the blade and cross guard were recycled of an older European sword and after trade in Africa isn't it? I've seen/read that was a common practice ?

Clement
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Old 5th September 2017, 06:06 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Have any images? I'm always happy to be wrong and certainly unusual ≠ 'fake' necessarily. But I'm a natural skeptic. certainly the hilt is not 'new' but i think the blade and cross guard pre date it.

I quite like the blade and it looks to display well. Certainly worth more research. Bits on the hilt look to be shell?


it should be mother-of-pearl
let me look if i find some pictures...
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Old 5th September 2017, 06:38 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kubur
it should be mother-of-pearl
let me look if i find some pictures...


Thanks, on another look at the pictures I think I see a ricasso at the base of the blade as well...
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Old 5th September 2017, 07:17 PM   #11
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Here is something similar from the internet...
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Old 5th September 2017, 07:28 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Here is something similar from the internet...


Perfect, I knew I'd seen that style of work before but wasn't coming up with anything in my notes.

I'd be curious if there are any firmly dated examples or bring backs exhibiting this type of work that can be used to establish a baseline.

A check on the British Museum and Pitts River Museum collections didn't turn up anything.
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Old 5th September 2017, 09:13 PM   #13
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Can anyone translate the Arabic script on the inlays? I can make out a couple of letters, but am not literate.

Regards,
Ed
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Old 5th September 2017, 09:25 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster
Can anyone translate the Arabic script on the inlays? I can make out a couple of letters, but am not literate.

Regards,
Ed


Friend of mine had a look and said it was a typical Koranic verse, "Victory from God"
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Old 6th September 2017, 05:57 PM   #15
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Thank's for your picts Collin ! Kubur was right

Thank's Iain for the translation !

Best regards,
Clement
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Old 7th September 2017, 09:47 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
I'd be curious if there are any firmly dated examples or bring backs exhibiting this type of work that can be used to establish a baseline.


Iain touches on an important point here. There are many examples of ornate, non-practical Sudanese weapons around, usually described as "Mahdist". Typically these items could be made of sheet metal, with copious inlay/decoration, crocodile skin etc., giving an exotic look. I've often had a suspicion that many at least were made/assembled after the Mahdist period for sale to Europeans... However, I have never seen solid evidence either way.

It should be borne in mind that after the Anglo-Egyptian re-conquest of the Sudan in 1898/99 enormous numbers of captured weapons existed, either from the various battles, disarmament or seizure of armouries in Omdurman.

I suppose the Blair Castle, Perthshire collection would be a good indicator, as the material was brought back at the time by Lord Tullibardine who fought in the Battle of Omdurman. Photography was not permitted when I visited some years ago, but I now see a few images have appeared on the internet...

Can anyone add to this subject ?
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Old 7th September 2017, 10:28 AM   #17
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Just a section of an interesting painting showing a kaskara in use against the 11. Hussars
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Old 7th September 2017, 10:32 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Iain touches on an important point here. There are many examples of ornate, non-practical Sudanese weapons around, usually described as "Mahdist". Typically these items could be made of sheet metal, with copious inlay/decoration, crocodile skin etc., giving an exotic look. I've often had a suspicion that many at least were made/assembled after the Mahdist period for sale to Europeans... However, I have never seen solid evidence either way.

It should be borne in mind that after the Anglo-Egyptian re-conquest of the Sudan in 1898/99 enormous numbers of captured weapons existed, either from the various battles, disarmament or seizure of armouries in Omdurman.

I suppose the Blair Castle, Perthshire collection would be a good indicator, as the material was brought back at the time by Lord Tullibardine who fought in the Battle of Omdurman. Photography was not permitted when I visited some years ago, but I now see a few images have appeared on the internet...

Can anyone add to this subject ?


Hi Colin, yes that's exactly what I'm getting at. Accounts like the following from 1932 in Khartum (The Mahdi of Allah: A Drama of the Sudan) make it seem like weapons done up to appeal to tourists were common.

Finally, as I do not understand any language at all, the Parsee winks at me mysteriously and produces a bundle - one that can speak for itself! In this bundle there are weapons - spears, barbaric clubs and shields, daggers that instead of sheaths are stuck into small dead crocodiles, so that the hilt protrudes from the jaws; and, above all, swords of an unmistakable form. The leather sheaths end in curious rhomboid-shaped points; the hilts in the form of a cross are studded with silver; the blade, when you draw it, is straight and broad, not a Saracen scimitar, but more like a Crusader's sword.

These weapons, too, might be faked. And, indeed, they are. Weapons like these are being offered to tourists in the mysteriously beautiful bazaar lanes of Assuan as Dervish trophies from the Sudanese battlefields.

The Indian curio dealer is standing in front of me on the lawn with a great naked sword in his hand; the gold embroidery on his little cap is sparkling in the sun and he is shouting at me words which - no matter in what strange language of the Sahibs I may happen to think - here in the Sudan I am bound to understand:
"Dervish, Sahib! El Mahdi, Sahib!"
"The sword, la espada, Sahi, Mynheer, of the Mahdi!"

Blair Castle has a great collection, but it is all quite workmanlike and there are no croc or fancy weapons on display.

Most of the Thuluth and croc pieces I've seen in museum collections like Pitts river have ascension dates from the 1920s or later. Although some thuluth peices are of course certainly Mahdist period and reached museum collections at the end of the 19th and very early 20th century like the piece linked below.

http://objects.prm.ox.ac.uk/pages/PRMUID47776.html
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Old 7th September 2017, 11:31 AM   #19
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Reminds me of Elgood's story in his book about Jaipur collection. At the end of 19th century British tourists started looking for Indian "souvenirs" and it stimulated production of "old" Indian weapons. The law of supply and demand raised its ugly head again:-)

In that book he fired several shots across the bow and promised a full cannonade in the Jodhpur one.

My antennae are twitching madly:-)
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Old 7th September 2017, 11:39 AM   #20
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Apparently, even Wallace collection was affected, and local Lebanese dealers were redecorating old stuff with gold and precious stones to appeal to wealthy Arab buyers.

I am starting to cast a suspicious eye at al-Sabah collection in Doha.
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Old 7th September 2017, 10:02 PM   #21
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This is a most interestingly remounted kaskara, and I agree with the idea that it appears to have been refurbished with this unusual hilt. Like the images shown of these other items using this inlay, I am thinking it may be mother of pearl, much as seen in northern India, Afghanistan in the guns produced there using these designs in the stocks.

It seems that the blade with five channels, and the familiar 'dukari' moons was a relatively unusually present example of the common three channel, dukari marked type blades. If not mistaken, I believe Ed Hunley in his work on Sudanese makers (archived here) noted these 5 channel blades termed 'Suleiman', and I gathered they seemed preferred by figures of status. These were native produced and termed collectively as 'masri' (I believe Rodd, 1928).
This would seem well placed as these types of inscriptions were key in swords given to tribal chiefs during the years of the Mahdiyya after the death of the Mahdi (1885-1898).

Though it is well established that there was a hugely subsidized market in these regions in the occupation after Omdurman (1898) for souveniers, the examples were I believe of simpler character, and not with this level of detail as inscriptions etc.

I am more inclined to think of this example as a heirloom blade (in much of Darfur and Sudan the kaskara is still held traditionally by families) which was remounted with this fancy hilt and using a later crossguard (these are of 'Ali Dinar' period up to and during WWI). According to Reed (1985) these with 'X' at center are Darfur oriented, but they also were made later in Kasalla.

The blade itself I think was indeed of Mahdiyya vintage, and for a tribal chief or individual of some stature in the Mahdist ranks. Nice piece!
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Old 8th September 2017, 09:14 AM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Hi Colin, yes that's exactly what I'm getting at. Accounts like the following from 1932 in Khartum (The Mahdi of Allah: A Drama of the Sudan) make it seem like weapons done up to appeal to tourists were common.

Finally, as I do not understand any language at all, the Parsee winks at me mysteriously and produces a bundle - one that can speak for itself! In this bundle there are weapons - spears, barbaric clubs and shields, daggers that instead of sheaths are stuck into small dead crocodiles, so that the hilt protrudes from the jaws; and, above all, swords of an unmistakable form. The leather sheaths end in curious rhomboid-shaped points; the hilts in the form of a cross are studded with silver; the blade, when you draw it, is straight and broad, not a Saracen scimitar, but more like a Crusader's sword.

These weapons, too, might be faked. And, indeed, they are. Weapons like these are being offered to tourists in the mysteriously beautiful bazaar lanes of Assuan as Dervish trophies from the Sudanese battlefields.

The Indian curio dealer is standing in front of me on the lawn with a great naked sword in his hand; the gold embroidery on his little cap is sparkling in the sun and he is shouting at me words which - no matter in what strange language of the Sahibs I may happen to think - here in the Sudan I am bound to understand:
"Dervish, Sahib! El Mahdi, Sahib!"
"The sword, la espada, Sahi, Mynheer, of the Mahdi!"

Blair Castle has a great collection, but it is all quite workmanlike and there are no croc or fancy weapons on display.

Most of the Thuluth and croc pieces I've seen in museum collections like Pitts river have ascension dates from the 1920s or later. Although some thuluth peices are of course certainly Mahdist period and reached museum collections at the end of the 19th and very early 20th century like the piece linked below.

http://objects.prm.ox.ac.uk/pages/PRMUID47776.html


A good and informative post by Iain, which advances the subject quite a bit. Nice to see firm references.

Also illustrates the importance of provenance with regard to artworks/antiquities.
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Old 8th September 2017, 09:23 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall

Though it is well established that there was a hugely subsidized market in these regions in the occupation after Omdurman (1898) for souveniers, the examples were I believe of simpler character, and not with this level of detail as inscriptions etc.



The short thuluth inscribed blades commonly seen with brass guards belong in the tourist category I believe. They are exceptionally uniform. So, I don't think the items are always that simple, but usually not that well made.

Quote:
I am more inclined to think of this example as a heirloom blade (in much of Darfur and Sudan the kaskara is still held traditionally by families) which was remounted with this fancy hilt and using a later crossguard (these are of 'Ali Dinar' period up to and during WWI). According to Reed (1985) these with 'X' at center are Darfur oriented, but they also were made later in Kasalla.

The blade itself I think was indeed of Mahdiyya vintage, and for a tribal chief or individual of some stature in the Mahdist ranks. Nice piece!


I have no doubt the blade seen here is of some quality, five fuller blades are unusual and I find it an attractive piece.

Regarding the crossguard plenty of of this type with the central 'X' are in clearly dated bring back collections like Blair Castle, they don't belong exclusively to the 20th century Ali Dinar groupings.
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Old 8th September 2017, 09:25 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
A good and informative post by Iain, which advances the subject quite a bit. Nice to see firm references.

Also illustrates the importance of provenance with regard to artworks/antiquities.



Thanks Colin, when we have sources I think its important to make use of them. Luckily there was a lot of travel to the region and occasionally valuable tidbits like that quote emerge.

I am still trying to find some dated example of the wood and mother of pearl work but no luck so far.
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Old 8th September 2017, 04:02 PM   #25
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A very similar type of decoration, inlaid nacre chips, some crudely, some better, is often found on furniture described as 'Damascus'. Apropos discussions elsewhere on the forum, this may describe a type rather than an origin, but is nevertheless middle-eastern, and is definitely found in Egypt and the Hejaz.
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Old 8th September 2017, 04:33 PM   #26
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Are there any inscriptions on the reverse?
What is shown in the photo is inscribed as Iain noted above:

Nasr min Allah! (Victory from God.) This appears twice, however the remainder of the phrase,
wu fath qarib! (and conquest nigh) is lacking.

The large central cartouche is more interesting.
It reads at the top: Mash'Allah! (God's blessing)
And at the bottom: La ullah (No god-- the beginning of the Muslim profession of faith, There is no god but Allah, no prophet but Muhammad)
Finally, there are three digits, 121 or 131 which convey the date 1210 (1795/96) or 1310 (1892/93.) Given the competent but clumsy character of the calligraphy and inlay work, I suspect the latter is correct.

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Old 8th September 2017, 05:12 PM   #27
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Thank's to everyone for your help, I gratefully appreciate the time you take to search, share your knowledge

So to my personal culture, this sword date from the end of 1800's and was "manufactured" for a high ranking person (tribal chief ).

I'm really happy to see that so many people are interested by this sword

Thank's,
Clement
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Old 10th September 2017, 10:37 PM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
The short thuluth inscribed blades commonly seen with brass guards belong in the tourist category I believe. They are exceptionally uniform. So, I don't think the items are always that simple, but usually not that well made.



I have no doubt the blade seen here is of some quality, five fuller blades are unusual and I find it an attractive piece.

Regarding the crossguard plenty of of this type with the central 'X' are in clearly dated bring back collections like Blair Castle, they don't belong exclusively to the 20th century Ali Dinar groupings.



Hi Iain,
I agree with Colin, as always your entries are remarkably observed and well detailed with references, very much appreciated! These are most valuable in learning more on these weapons.

It is really hard to determine more on the thuluth covered arms, as it is tempting to classify them as souveniers. However, it seems that there is compelling consideration toward these weapons being produced during the time of the Caliph just after the Mahdi's death in 1885. In arming his growing forces, many comprising slave elements and others he used this profound device in carrying forth the religious fervor of the Mahdi even though he had passed. It seems that the workshops in Omdurman were essential in assemblage of weaponry, though I have seen references suggesting weapons (the trowel type) were made in Khartoum (where the armory and some shops remained intact).

While we know these thuluth covered arms were produced for the continuation of the Mahdiyya, it is hard to say how many might have been produced during the post Omdurman Condominium as I am not aware of any documented evidence addressing that.

It seems reasonable that the 'X' on the cross center on hilts probably were produced during the Mahddiyya, but seem certainly more unusual in examples I have seen. It is in Reed (1985) where these predominate on the swords he describes from Darfur, and as the forms which apparently became popularized during Ali Dinar's time in early years pre WWI. These had these X guards and often embossed harlequin/lozenge decorated silver hilts.
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Old 11th September 2017, 09:48 AM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Hi Iain,
I agree with Colin, as always your entries are remarkably observed and well detailed with references, very much appreciated! These are most valuable in learning more on these weapons.

It is really hard to determine more on the thuluth covered arms, as it is tempting to classify them as souveniers. However, it seems that there is compelling consideration toward these weapons being produced during the time of the Caliph just after the Mahdi's death in 1885. In arming his growing forces, many comprising slave elements and others he used this profound device in carrying forth the religious fervor of the Mahdi even though he had passed. It seems that the workshops in Omdurman were essential in assemblage of weaponry, though I have seen references suggesting weapons (the trowel type) were made in Khartoum (where the armory and some shops remained intact).

While we know these thuluth covered arms were produced for the continuation of the Mahdiyya, it is hard to say how many might have been produced during the post Omdurman Condominium as I am not aware of any documented evidence addressing that.

It seems reasonable that the 'X' on the cross center on hilts probably were produced during the Mahddiyya, but seem certainly more unusual in examples I have seen. It is in Reed (1985) where these predominate on the swords he describes from Darfur, and as the forms which apparently became popularized during Ali Dinar's time in early years pre WWI. These had these X guards and often embossed harlequin/lozenge decorated silver hilts.



Hi Jim,

Regarding thuluth, I'm not implying they are all post 19th century junk, but there are certain standardized patterns of quite short kaskara without fullers, sheet metal blades and thuluth combined with low quality brass guards that I am certain were made for the tourist market.

Obviously there are plenty of examples that are indeed from the Mahdist period, but my point was simply that a lot of the examples that come up frequently for sale are in my opinion not of the age often prescribed to them.

About the hilts with the Xs. Yes these do seem to be something of a Darfur specialty, but offhand several in Blair castle have them. So I think its really not specific to the post 19th century period and much of the arms used in the Mahdist period, particularly good quality swords were doubtless produced before. Also we know the cross guards were also imported from Germany (see "Le Soudan: Ses rapport avec le commerce Europeen" from 1871 and written by a French civil servant).
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Old 23rd October 2017, 03:55 PM   #30
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Reading Major Powell-Cotton's excellent book "In Unknown Africa" 1904, I attach an extract which is pertinent to this discussion, as it illustrates the keen awareness the Sudanese had for selling souvenirs to Europeans... The Major's visit to Khartoum and Omdurman was in 1903 on his way back to Britain, I believe.
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