Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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drac2k 18th June 2021 06:13 PM

Mahdist Spears ?
6 Attachment(s)
Two nice spears that I believe to be Mahdist spears.

Edster 18th June 2021 09:18 PM


The spear on the right looks to me like the Mahdist Era style. I have one similar. Photo highlights on yours suggests that one side is slightly concave while the flipped over the other side is concaved as well. This feature allows a slight raised edge part to provide a surface for a sharpened edge.

This alternative concave arrangement suggests to me that both our spears were stamped from sheet steel and formed in a die in a factory setting. In neither item I don't notice hammer marks that would suggest forged products. Gordon assembled a first rate machine shop in Khartoum that was moved to Omdurman and used by the Khalifa's craftsmen to make weapons. Also, I've heard elsewhere that weapons were made in England and sold to Sudan via Egypt.

The skinny blade looks like a shade-tree smith's work for a fishing spear. It could have been made anytime. I have a similar one from 1986. Yours looks modern as the points look unused.

Best regards,

Edster 19th June 2021 02:16 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Here's my spear. Note the concave left half and narrow surface to sharpen. Very similar to yours right side to my eye.


drac2k 19th June 2021 03:57 AM

Thank you for your very informative reply. Does your Mahdist spear have a bamboo haft? It is very light & it must have been meant for throwing as opposed to another spear that I have of the same configuration, but much larger & heavier, probably used by the infantry.
I am not familiar with the term "Shade Tree Smith;" I'm guessing that it means that it was hand forged by some local village blacksmith. Is that spear African and if so from what area; I can see where it would be effective in spearing fish.

Edster 19th June 2021 01:28 PM

A Shade Tree Smith is a takeoff on a probably rural Southern US term for a Shade Tree Mechanic who would work on cars, rebuild engines, etc. under the shade of a household tree or other crude shelter rather than have a more formal covered shop with doors, etc. They were competent in a limited range of activities, but their tools were limited as well. Yes, a village smith.

I recall that the spear shaft was of a bamboo-type grass, but solid, not like the typical SE Asia bamboo basically hollow core sections separated by nodes. It's about the only material there that grows long enough, round enough and straight enough to make a spear shaft.

There are several small rivers in Eastern Sudan that drain from the Ethiopian highlands into the two Niles. I got my fishing/hunting/self defence spears in Sennar on the Blue Nile by the bus departure location, likely locally made. There was probably a centralized smithy that specialized in spears and put them out to itinerant sellers who peddled them at area gathering places and markets. The sword & knife makers of Kassala use the same process to retail their products.


drac2k 19th June 2021 01:55 PM

Once again thanks for the information & the insight; too often I concentrate on the form of the spearhead, but fail to consider the material of the shaft when trying to determine its origin.

Edster 19th June 2021 06:52 PM

Yep, all of the weapons/tools we consider, as others have observed, exist in/derive from social and cultural contexts. Once these contexts erode they become objects of art that we collectors and students savor, but only partially because mostly we have been denied the contexts.

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