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Old 31st January 2023, 08:49 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Sudanese spears of Mahdist Period 1881-1899

While we have often discussed Sudanese swords (kaskara) there has not been that much discussion on the spears, which seem to have been of various tribal forms. These forms were not all indiginous to Sudan necessarily, but from tribes in neighboring countries as well.

The script covered example I have here is I believe an 'alem' and while it seems to correspond to the wide leaf blade type ', I think it was likely used as a battle standard. This is suggested by Artzi in the blue backed illustration of one of similar wide blade form (apparently remounted with ivory handle).

In the fall of Khartoum (1885) British General Gordon was killed by a zealous tribesman who is this artwork appears to have one of the wide blade spears.

I would appreciate comments and especially examples of spears out there of Sudanese association and of this period.
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Old 1st February 2023, 03:10 AM   #2
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Jim,

Good subject. Battle spears are used more often than kaskara, but are often neglected in our presentations and discussions.

Typically, mounted fighters either camel or horse riders carried 3 or 4 javelins to use first and then swords for close contact usually while on foot.

Northern Beja, mostly Beni Amir continued to use spars while southern groups transitioned to the kaskara. See the attached pic of Beja spear maker from Kassala via my Sword & Knife Makers paper and the extracted text.

The short spear is still made by O'Haj Mohammad Din, my informant's uncle. He and his
son are the only remaining producers of the traditional weapon of the Beja. While the
sword has replaced it as the culturally reinforced large weapon of choice, the spear is
still preferred by the tough, steely-eyed Beni Amir who roam the hilly wastes of northern
Eritrea to the east of Kassala.
Unlike the long shaft broad leaf or spade shaped spear of the mounted Baggara of
Western Sudan, the Beja spear is designed for use by pedestrians. The wooden shafts
are about a meter long and steel spear points are attached to each end. The narrow
killing blade is about 20 inches, tapering from two inches to a sword tip. It has a center
reinforcing rib. The other end is an 18 inch long round piece formed by forging and
welding a rod in a pointed tapered spiral.

Informants say that the flat blade is used if one wants to kill an animal and the piercing
round end is used if only wounding is the goal. It appears to me that this weapon is
lethal at both ends. The length and balance of the spear makes it easy to carry, an aid
in walking and highly effective for thrusting, short range throwing and in defense of a
sword attack.

Also, we had a good discussion some years before on spears.
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=17792

Most of the spears on the card with barbs are fishing spears. Spears you want to stick people with shouldn't remain in the target, but be withdrawn.

Regards,
Ed
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Old 1st February 2023, 02:25 PM   #3
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Thank you so much Ed, and for that link......2013...10 years ago, wow! Time really goes by! amazing how much info in that discussion, and your knowledge and field experience in these topics is profound.

As you note, the spears are seldom ever addressed in discussions on Sudanese topics, despite the fact of their importance among tribal warriors there.
These are great insights as to some of the key tribal preferences. It seems that so many times over the years many have somehow seen those barbed 'fishing' spears as deliberately horrible weapons for warfare. as you note, this is quite unlikely as the weapon cannot be pulled back.

I am wondering on my example, which seems to have a bit different shape but is indeed quite large, may be intended as a 'standard'...in the manner of the example shown with the ivory handle. The 'decorative' script overall seems, like thuluth, to be based on repetitive wording or phrases, but arranged in accord with the shape of the blade.
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Old 1st February 2023, 04:09 PM   #4
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I have that chaps spear. Also its the one that killed Gordon don't you know.
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Old 1st February 2023, 04:17 PM   #5
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Apparently, every afternoon, certainly "frequently", the Khalifa held a big parade-like affair on a big field in Omdurman to whip up the faithful. Likely, your spear blade could have been used as a standard along with the flags, troops and drummers to keep the festivities going. It's a little small for battle, even for small units where the flags and mounted amirs provided directions. Yet religious figures could have hoisted it instead of a sword. Of course all of this is just a guess.
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Old 1st February 2023, 11:36 PM   #6
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I'd say pretty well placed guess Ed. That makes sense as when the Mahdi, who was supposed to be Messianic died of typhus, a very earthly cause.
The Khaliph, his successor, had to find ways to keep the impetus of the jihad and keep the forces energized by keeping the Mahdi's magic and influence the driving force.
I believe this was the idea behind the heavily thuluth laden weaponry, and regalia as well as these kinds of events, and quite frankly seems to have achieved the desired results.

As I have understood, there were indeed Holy Men on the field who had various weapons and items to tend to the fallen and secure their passage to paradise through prescribed blessings and ritual.This was the purpose of some of the items and weapons that seemed less than battle worthy, again, as I have seen noted.
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Old 2nd February 2023, 11:46 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster View Post
Apparently, every afternoon, certainly "frequently", the Khalifa held a big parade-like affair on a big field in Omdurman to whip up the faithful. Likely, your spear blade could have been used as a standard along with the flags, troops and drummers to keep the festivities going. It's a little small for battle, even for small units where the flags and mounted amirs provided directions. Yet religious figures could have hoisted it instead of a sword. Of course all of this is just a guess.
Not sure about being too small for battle. The blade alone is 30 inches long and the spine starts at 1/2 inch thick.
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Old 2nd February 2023, 01:31 PM   #8
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Tim,

My opinion is based thusly. If Jim's floor tiles are 12 X 12, the blade length is of that scale. The blade is riveted to the shaft, not very strong. Plus, the shaft is around a foot long, certainly too short and out of balance with the blade for two handed close combat. Better battle options were available.

Best,
Ed
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Old 2nd February 2023, 04:21 PM   #9
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Sorry Ed misunderstood which spear you were mentioning.
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Old 2nd February 2023, 05:00 PM   #10
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Tim,

No problems. I wasn't specific enough in my reply to Jim. Your spear is quite formidable. Wouldn't want to be on the "receiving end" of it.

Ed
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Old 2nd February 2023, 05:47 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster View Post
Tim,

My opinion is based thusly. If Jim's floor tiles are 12 X 12, the blade length is of that scale. The blade is riveted to the shaft, not very strong. Plus, the shaft is around a foot long, certainly too short and out of balance with the blade for two handed close combat. Better battle options were available.

Best,
Ed
Ed, I gotta say again, Holmes pales next to your forensics!! Purely elementary right? but I sure never thought of the 'tiles standard' .
As you say, while this blade is substantial, I always thought it too large and without any sort of ribbing etc, plus as you note, the shaft which would fail on impact.
Coupled with the notable applied decoration/exhortations etc. which seem more aligned with courtly character (aside from the crudely etched thuluth on the kaskaras and sundry arms from Omdurman and Khartoum shops).

Best
Jim

PS: In rechecking the notorious tiles, they were 16x16" .
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Old 2nd February 2023, 09:03 PM   #12
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Jim, I too agree that your spearhead example to be a alam standard due to the decoration of thuluth and form, and like Ed stated, this would not funtion well in actual battle other than rallying the warriors. It is likely a ceremonial or parade piece. It is although a very nice example of the type. I have a similar examplar, with thuluth on a Mahdist replica throwing knife with symbolism of crescent moons, stars, and pseudo- Arabic writing that may just be imitated calligraphy. It is missing its grip which was likely reptile skin.

Also attached are pictures of a javelin head that comes from the Sudan Region. I still have not narrowed it in exacly where but it may originate between Chad, Darfur, and the Kordofan area (?) The blade fullers and shape remind me of Tubu and Darfur bladed short swords found in Western Sudan and Eastern Chad. The socket is however twisted and not typical for the area (?) I am assuming this at one point in its lifetime was complete with a shaft and possibly a butt which at one point broke and the reptile grip was added and became a scepter...something often seen during the Mahdist time period. See http://oriental-arms.co.il/item.php?id=3820 and http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1872

-Geoffrey
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Old 2nd February 2023, 09:24 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by G. Mansfield View Post
Jim, I too agree that your spearhead example to be a alam standard due to the decoration of thuluth and form, and like Ed stated, this would not funtion well in actual battle other than rallying the warriors. It is likely a ceremonial or parade piece. It is although a very nice example of the type. I have a similar examplar, with thuluth on a Mahdist replica throwing knife with symbolism of crescent moons, stars, and pseudo- Arabic writing that may just be imitated calligraphy. It is missing its grip which was likely reptile skin.

Also attached are pictures of a javelin head that comes from the Sudan Region. I still have not narrowed it in exacly where but it may originate between Chad, Darfur, and the Kordofan area (?) The blade fullers and shape remind me of Tubu and Darfur bladed short swords found in Western Sudan and Eastern Chad. The socket is however twisted and not typical for the area (?) I am assuming this at one point in its lifetime was complete with a shaft and possibly a butt which at one point broke and the reptile grip was added and became a scepter...something often seen during the Mahdist time period. See http://oriental-arms.co.il/item.php?id=3820 and http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1872

-Geoffrey
Thank you! Great examples you add here as well.
I think trying to classify these items regionally is typically pretty futile as diffusion among tribal groups usually transcends geography.
My example may well be intended ceremonially, likely in the daily assemblies held by the Khaliph for the following, as noted by Ed.

Thank you again for these additions! Exactly what I was hoping for in examining these aspects of Sudanese arms.
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Old 2nd February 2023, 10:13 PM   #14
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Jim,

This may add to the discussion. See attachment, if it works.

ON THE ARMS OF THE ARAB AND NEGRO TRIBES 01: CENTI~ALAFRICA, BOItDERINC: ON THE WHITE NILE.
By John Petherick 1857
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Old 3rd February 2023, 11:39 PM   #15
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Thank you Ed for posting this article! I will add it to my records for future reference.

Tim, your spear is similar to one that I have. From the decoration notchings at the base, I believe it to be from the Shilluk and certainly old enough to fit into this time frame of the Mahdist period. The Kalifa spanned large swaths of Sudan (Mahdist map), so I will post it for relevancy and comparison. It is only the spearhead, missing the shaft, with a total length of 25 3/4 (Spearhead).

Upon a closer look at the picture posted by both Jim and Tim (Baggara Emir), It looks like he may be carrying an arm dagger suspended from the shoulder rather than looped around the left arm in typical manner. I have never seen them worn this way. Can anybody else confirm this? It is the hourgalss shaped arm dagger form rather than the typical disc- shaped pommel often attributed to Khartoum and Omdurman. I will post one from my collection also for comparison (Arm dagger). It is a very old example, possibly pre-mahdi, although missing the arm loop.

-Geoffrey
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