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Old 5th August 2022, 01:42 AM   #1
Edster
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Default Kaskara & Takouba "Enigmatic" Mark Revisited

The so-called "enigmatic mark" found on some 19th C. takouba and kaskara has been a persistent mystery among the EAA Forum's members, including its most informed, for many years. Who engraved it on blades, where and when have been debated extensively,(see links below) but no solution has been revealed? The mark was first recorded by L.C. Briggs in his "European Blades in Tuareg Swords and Daggers." The Journal of the Arms & Armour Society (June 1965), pp. 5354.

The Forum has many new members who have exhibited excellent research and analytical skills, and I invite them to help dig into the mystery. Of course summations and new insights from previous contributors are most welcome. Also, have additional examples been encountered and not included in the inventory?

These threads contain examples of marked kaskara and the insightful discussions of previous contributors. Other threads on the forum may contain additional materials.
2009
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showth...danese+marking

2010
Search on EAA for"
"Mutilated Kaskara on Ebay" - Ethnographic Arms & Armour

2016
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showth...Enigmatic+mark

Some examples of the mark are attached.

Hopefully we can make some progress.
Best regards,
Ed
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Old 5th August 2022, 09:26 AM   #2
Jim McDougall
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Ed, thank you for this thread, and one of the greatest of the 'cold cases' on North African broadswords, the marking we enthusiasts of this field have dubbed 'the enigma'.

While it seems most of the notes I have handy at the moment go back to 2010, this has been a topic I recall further back into the 90s as far as my own involvement in it.

I think right out of the gate here, it is important to note that most of the discussions/queries concerning these marks seem to be from examples found on the blades of kaskara. As noted in the plates you show, from Briggs, 1965, which has been pretty much a Gospel in my own studies for decades, the examples shown are from Tuareg chiefs who were involved in the Kaocen Revolt against the French in 1916-17 . These were 'central type' takouba's and were, in the cases of Adember and Raidera both captured from these chiefs in Agades.

Briggs suggests that these may be native copies of European blade markings as also seen in the plates, with the versions of the cross & orb being interestingly of the gestalt of these curious markings, which are of more bizarre character. These 'enigma' are seemingly almost 'protozoan' looking or as if Picasso's rendition of an octopus.

The issue is trying to find some sort of commonality or common thread to determine possible symbolism. There have been numerous suggestions from far fetched to reasonably plausible through the years. One very good observation was a reasonable similarity to an Ottoman 'toughra', but this still falls too far outside the box in my opinion.
Briggs' suggestion of closeness to the fly, or perhaps the doll, also seem reasonable, but again the stylizing is too removed, and even native copies of various images are more recognizable as to what they represent.

I think the closest possibility would be associated with the varying types of crosses, known as the cross of Agades, of which there are at least 21 variations. These mostly have the circular feature in degree as well as the extensions, and seem prevalent in Tuareg material culture. These kinds of crosses have significant symbolisms and meanings, but seem most likely talismanic in the way they are used in so many ways.

The next question would be, if this is a type of talisman or symbol keenly used in Tuareg culture, then why are these found on kaskara blades?
In Briggs, he notes kaskara examples which carry the dual crescent moons which are found typically of Tuareg 'takouba (these marks are termed dukari).
On p,89, he notes that the Hausa, who were the nomads from Nigeria who were known for blacksmithing appear to have furnished blades not only to the Tuareg of Saharan regions, but to the Sudanese. It seems they had remarkable sources for trade blades, and furbished them according to the requirements of tribal groups they were in contact with.

These 'enigma' seem to have been a fairly recent occurrence on blades, and Briggs notes these c. 1878 in Ahaggar, and in his plate XXc, the sword of Rabidine, a noble of Kel Rela Tuareg in Ahaggar had a central type takouba with this style marking on both faces of the blade.
Obviously the swords with the mark also shown in the plate are from 1916-17, so late 19th c. into early 20th seems the extent of the period known.

However, according to my notes, Ed described this mark on the blade of a kaskara of Mohammed Salin Shangiti, who was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Egypt who received it February 1961. It is most recently known at the library of Khartoum. It is unclear the vintage of the sword or its blade.

While the talismanic or other symbolic properties of this marking remain unknown, I feel the most likely place to establish this would be looking further into the variations of the 'Cross of Agades". One of the key sources for this may be the book "Africa Adorned" by Angela Fisher, which is largely on jewelry and has interesting section on Tuareg examples using these crosses.

Just as seen in Briggs, the swords of the Tuareg and those of the Sudanese may remain separate in form, however the blades and marking are often closely diffused.

In the pics, a 'Kasallawi' style kaskara, but believed of earlier period , c. 1914-18 in form favored by Ali Dinar in Darfur. Note the marking which has been seen on a number of examples, and is also often regarded as a variation of the enigma, despite being more like the European marks copied.
The takouba is from Lee Jones article and illustrates the 'central type' of these, with the blade form most commonly seen, with three fullers and the twin moons (dukari)....these blades termed 'masri' and according to Rodd (1928) were typically regarded in those times as Hausa sourced.
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Old 5th August 2022, 02:10 PM   #3
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Jim,

Thanks for your summary and astute analysis of the Cross of Agadez. However I'd like to offer another perspective.

From Briggs' Plate XX, B. are marks from the sword of Adembar said to be copied from A, that of the sword of Raidera. That statement can be challenged.

All of A's marks appear to be like those STAMPED into other blades. The top two (lion & cross) in B would be STAMPED as well, but the bottom left (our Mark) is likely ENGRAVED as may be the one on the right.

B is the only takouba I know of with the Mark. All others shown on the attached threads are Engraved on kaskara, likely trade blades and are virtual duplicates of Adembar's design, and not derivates of any stamp on Raidera's sword.

It would be great to do a hands-on inspection of both swords or at least in figures in Gabus' book to confirm my Stamp vs. Engraved assertion.

Also, the symbol on your Bega kaskara is looks like the "fly" mark and is Stamped. I do like its cross-guard that may have spot welded langets; an interesting variation.

Best regards,
Ed
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Old 5th August 2022, 04:06 PM   #4
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Thanks Ed,
As you note, Briggs asserts (per Gaus '58) that the grouping of marks on the 'takouba' of the Tiounfara chief Adembar (XXb) are copied from those on the blade of the takouba of the chief Raidera in Air (XXa).

As also noted, in example (a) those markings are all stamped, thus are more clearly represented, particularly the 'bees' which seem to be more 'tentacled' figures, though Briggs suggests these may represent the German marks used by Kull and Weyersberg as well as Mumm (who termed it 'die puppe;, the doll).

Clearly the marks on (b) are engraved or scribed rather than stamped, which leads to the apparent 'license' of the native artist with the two 'bee' markings while the lion and cross and orb are fairly true to form.
This begs the question, why, if the stamped marks of lion and cross/orb are indeed copied............why the 'interpretation' of the other two?

As you note, in XX(a) and (b) the marking grouping are basically the same, four figures, and are indeed of Tuareg provenance on takouba's.

However, in the same plate, XX(c) is a blade with the same curious engraved figure(s) as seen on sword (b), which as you note is a takouba.
On p.84, Briggs describes the sword in (c) which belonged to Rabadine , a noble of the Kel Rela tribe of Ahaggar Tuareg. Here Briggs describes the blade of this sword (which is hilted as central type takouba, as he notes compares to his takouba example T2).
As seen in (c) the blade figures are clearly like those on (b) Adembars sword, which here Briggs notes these marks are unlike anything he has seen EXCEPT the 'bee' marks on the Adembar sword, and here he notes these engraved hatched marks appear to be placed over older European ones (?).

Here I would note T2 example Briggs refers to in comparing the blade of the (c)sword, is actually what seems perhaps a kaskara blade, as its length is over 35", far loo long for most takouba I have seen, but definitely concurs with kaskara.


So then, example (c) which has the enigmatic markings compared to those of (b), with both swords being takouba as far as the hilts they are mounted in.

On p.81, a confusing description of another example of this 'enigmatic' apparently engraved marking is illustrated by Morel ('43, p.152 'Planche XIV, and '48 p.233, fig. 1). who saw it in AHAGGAR on another sword which belonged to Mohamed bin Sheikh.
So here the implication of a third takouba with the enigma.

Thank you for the kind notes on my kaskara with the rather horned looking stamp. It was suggested that this sword may have had connections to the holdings of Ali Dinar in Darfur (d. 1914) and the references in Reed (1985) seem to support the Darfur note. However, with the rather optimistic suggestion to the Ali Dinar connection I remain skeptical despite the fact he likely had numerous swords. It has been suggested that the styling of these hilts was favored in this time, and these became the 'Kassala' form.
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Old 5th August 2022, 07:03 PM   #5
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Default Catfish

In going through old notes etc. from what I realize now were from some years ago (where has the time gone?) I found another theory I had come up with but which seemed somewhat tenuous, despite the compelling visual image of the images I found.
I discovered that in ancient Egyptian iconography, in heiroglyphic character for a pharoah named King Narmer, the rebus included a catfish to say his name.
This figure was with a body with forward projecting barbels (tentacles) in the same configuration as this stylized figure of the enigma.

While obviously it seems beyond unlikely that such iconography would lend to the tribal symbolism of relatively modern tribal symbolism of the latter 19th c., I have found a degree of the presence of heiroglyphics being recognized as sources. This was found in references of cattle brands used in Kordofan which could be sourced relatively to heiroglyphics. It seems possible of course that the influence was broader.

We know that various birds, fish, snakes etc. are depicted symbolically on edged weapons in Sudan and into other regions, so I was thinking, perhaps the catfish might have carried the same impact on modern natives that it had on the ancients, regardless of linear chronology. We know that the crocodile did.

At about the time I was considering this, there was a suggestion that this enigmatic figure might have related to the comet, in view if the observance of that cosmology in Mahdist times. This too sounded compelling, but would seem to be more in accord with kaskara and outside the Tuareg connections.

So I thought I would add this 'catfish' aspect as far as possible symbolism for review and further consideration or disqualification. You must admit looking at the rebus with the catfish figure has a compelling similarity from the stylized point of view.

The serekh (rectangular cartouche) with the catfish image is topped with the Horus bird to indicate this rebus is a royal name.
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Old 5th August 2022, 10:01 PM   #6
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Default Cross of Agadez

To follow up on my idea regarding the 'cross of Agadez', in doing more looking into this, I found the following.
The 'cross of Agadez' is in effect an item of jewelry, primarily a pendant with symbolic shapes in silhouette, and the term 'cross' is misleading as there are varying shapes. These items are termed tanaghiit or talhakim and favored by Sunni Muslim Tuareg people.

It seems that whatever the extent of use of these were in the 19th century, in modern times they are somewhat prevalent in the Kel Air; Kel Geress and a number of non Berber groups in the Sahara, which interestingly include the Hausa. However it is noted that these are largely ignored by the larger spectrum of Tuareg people. Perhaps this attitude is what has rendered these 'enigma' markings so rare and unknown, being established and occurring only on a few examples , those copied without broader established meaning or use.

The Hausa are as mentioned, a nomadic tribe originally from Niger, who are known for blacksmithing skills, thus sword production. The Kel Air (Kel Ayr) are the tribe mentioned in previous post with a takouba with this enigma symbol.

While these 'crosses' seem to have wide variation, there seems to be only vague explanation for the symbolism attached to them, so it is not surprising that there is a notable scope of variation in the items physically.

As a reminder, the regions of the Air (ayr) massif are in Niger, which is where the Kel Ayr tribe of Tuareg Berber confederations are situated (in control there since 1850s) and where the 1916-17 rebellions took place. Here is where at least two (perhaps a third) takouba belonging to chiefs and important figures were taken, having these enigma symbols engraved on the blades.
If the widely geometrically varied 'Agadez cross' (from this key city in Ayr) are known there so well, then perhaps similarly styled symbolism might have developed this design, with or without the 'bee' figures in mind. With the trade and tribal interaction with the Hausa as conduit, it seems this may explain how the symbol transmitted into the sphere of the kaskara. All of this probably occurring in the early years of the 20th century.

The talismanic symbolism on Berber weaponry is probably best exemplified in that found on the blades of the Kabyle flyssa, where such symbolic characters are often included in the context of the typically known designs.
Such personalization seems well known among Berber tribes, but in this case such a symbol might have been seen and favored, then copied with whatever imbuement might have been implied or presumed, thus occurring on numerous blades accordingly.
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Old 6th August 2022, 01:53 AM   #7
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Sorry, Jim, but I can't warm to the Cross of Agadez as being the stylistic parent of The Mark. The Mark is too sophisticated to be its derivative.

While the Cross was relevant to the Tuareg people, it was likely meaningless to the Sudanese, the source on most of our Marked kaskara. Also, the Mark appears exclusively ?? on imported German trade blades so Hausa smiths likely would have had no contact with them, and the Mark was skillfully engraved likely by a silversmith, not a blade maker.

My best origin story is the Enigma mark is the emblem of a sufi order/tariga common among the Tuareg and Sudanese of the Nile Valley. The emblem would be known among silversmiths of both areas so that it could be reproduced virtually identically over a wide geography. Maybe the Qadiriyya, active in Morocco and the first sufi order in Sudan. The link shows their emblem.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qadiriyya
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Old 6th August 2022, 03:40 AM   #8
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Points well taken Ed, and I agree your suggestion of this Sufi order being a good possibility of being the source, especially with the notable commonality which would support its diffusion from Tuareg to the Sudanese. I had not been aware of this, and now seeing it is compelling.

As I had admitted in my observations on the cross, it seemed to have a degree of plausibility because of the variations in these and notable stylizing of the enigma. However, this suggestion is markedly more on target both in general appearance and feasibility.

My only question would be, if this symbol in its stylized form as seen on these two or three blades, why would this interpretation exist only on these few examples if it was being reproduced over wide geographical area?
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Old 6th August 2022, 01:52 PM   #9
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My only guess about limited distribution would be sample size. EAA collectors have identified several (identified in the various threads) and I don't know how many kaskara or takouba are in the hands of our members, others and museums Also, the Mark may have only been engraved on the swords of higher ranking members of the sufi order, those who have attained a higher order of adeptness and not rank and file member.

Hopefully, other collectors will more closely examine their kaskara and other North African swords more closely for the famous mark.

Last edited by Edster; 6th August 2022 at 03:36 PM. Reason: added "others and museums"
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Old 6th August 2022, 04:26 PM   #10
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I think that may be a good resolution, that this mark (enigma) might reflect as award or perhaps as you suggest, a level of achievement or status in a particular Tariqa in Sufi. That would explain the relative rarity (as far known) of this symbol on these sword blades.

In support of this seems to be the fact that in Briggs, the examples he notes having this device seem to only have been those of notable Tuareg chiefs or extremely prominent figures. As these are described naturally they are only seen through the filter of known European blade markings and native interpretations of them. Frankly that was in degree the level of consideration I was operating on as well, along with possible talismanic or folk type associations in symbolism.

The idea of a high ranking Sufi associated emblem is further supported by your mention years ago of the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in Egypt receiving a kaskara with it on the blade in Khartoum in 1961.
That appears to be the only mention of this enigma mark beyond the three in Briggs. Here again I note your observation that these are apparently engraved skillfully by an artisan likely in precious metals rather than a native armorer dealing with more pedestrian level swords mounted with trade blades.

I think it will take a great deal of theological research in these elements of Sunni Islam and Sufi Orders to gain knowledge of the meaning of the enigma mark, and that certainly exceeds the general knowledge core in the average arms community. Possibly some of the scholars who have written on these religious aspects of arms in Sudan might have such awareness.

For our purposes at this level, as you note we need further exemplars of this mark on blades of other takouba or kaskara to test the exposure levels of the use of it, as well as hopefully provenance or additional context that might offer more insight.

Apparently the examples shown by Briggs of the Adembar and Raidera swords are in the Musee d' Ethnographie of Neuchatel (XXa, b)
It is unclear where XXc is. I have the Gabus reference pending, and have located Morel, Lhote for referencing so will see where that goes when all together.
Then maybe seeing if the Neuchatel museum has the examples, maybe photos of the markings?

It would seem that the 'hatched' marks (enigma) Briggs refers to as 'bees' have a connection to the stamped versions of the 'cow head', style example (as seen on the blade of the Darfur kaskara I posted) if the second one in XXb with two loops to the side is considered as transitionary to the stylized 'hatched' example.

The game is afoot

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Old 8th August 2022, 04:18 PM   #11
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Default Enigma mark...Tuareg into the kaskara realm

Ongoing,
So it seems we have established that the enigma mark was known in the period around WWI by the Tuareg, and it seems in the Air (Ayr) regions of that massif in Niger centered around Agadez.
The three examples cited in Briggs (1965) represent takouba of two Tuareg chiefs and one figure of nobility of these regions.

At some point, this same device began to occur on kaskara blades in the Sudan with one primary example mentioned by Ed as to the Judge al Shengeti c. 1956 as seen in library at Khartoum in 1961.
There seem to be several other kaskara without exact provenance with the enigma placed in similar rendition and placement that exist.

I recall Iain years ago suggesting this resembled a lock/key known in Sahara to be used by Tuareg, and in 2016 it was suggested again that this might represent a key.
With this idea, it seems quite possible that this device might indeed represent a key, perhaps used metaphorically representing possibly an achievement or status relating to Sufi following, and that would have to do with individuals with profound standing that had reached it.

More to consider I guess, and the search goes on. I'd like to finally get this solved 'this run', recalling similar discussion/investigations in '08/09, '16 etc.
Whatever the case, glad Ed brought it up again here.

The bottom image is that of the Shengeti kaskara; I noted also in the 2016 discussion there was an apocryphal suggestion that this mark had been seen in a reference where it was noted as British. With the existence of this device in Tuareg context in 1916 I am inclined to think otherwise, but place the note here as inclusive for consideration.
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Old 8th August 2022, 10:31 PM   #12
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Jim,

The Tuareg Veil Key or Weight has a similar design to the Enigmatic Mark. The key has a circle, a center piece and a bottom one with three legs. The Mark only has the circle & the three legged piece. The Key is a Tuareg symbol of Amazigh ethnicity.

The symbol may or may not be connected to the Mark. Likely a stretch. Especially, why would the Tuareg nobles engrave it on their takouba and how/why would it be found on Sudanese kaskara, culturally separate from the Tuareg.

See the site and Google images of Tuareg Veil Key for several variations.

https://www.amazigh.it/tuareg-iwelle...n-swoul-niger/
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Old 9th August 2022, 02:19 AM   #13
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Ed thank you for this response which is in line with the 'key' suggestion I had noted. The interesting variation in geometric combinations really does present a degree of plausibility to comparison with these, but that seems to pretty much fall into the same reach as with the Agadez crosses. In both cases these items seem more in line with magic and talismans.

My idea toward a key was more in a metaphoric sense, in the theosophy of important tribal figures, such as a key (no pun intended) to the secrets or understanding of religious dogma. I suppose what I am suggesting is in the sense of Masonic ritual and levels, here noting that with the Shengeti kaskara, he was a Grand Master.
That however would not explain the same enigma symbol on the takoubas which are in entirely different cultural sphere. What does transcend these tribal differences is of course religion.

So turning to the religion, most all of Air and these regions, the Tuareg are followers of the Maliki sect of Sunni Islam. This following exists also in Sudan, and while the law is set by Maliki doctrine there have developed followings in Sufi which seem to have been able to co-exist in Niger so probably in other regions also.
Clearly this area is far outside my knowledge, but it seems possible that such a symbol might have a metaphoric meaning in these areas of religious significance.
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