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Old 14th August 2022, 04:42 AM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Takouba Blade Markings

The recent thread opened by Ed on the mysterious 'enigma' marking described by Briggs (1965) has inspired me to look into some of the other unusual or distinct markings found on takouba blades. In many cases these have transcended into the sphere of the kaskara of the Sudan, but I wanted to look further at these Saharan examples.

This takouba has a blade which appears to be an 18th century hanger or short saber blade, probably German and with a slight curve, single edge. This places it categorically as the takouba form termed 'aljuinar' (for curved blade).
What is curious is the sort of horseshoe shape mark in the blade.

With European blades of these forms of 18th c. often various symbols in much the same position sometimes occur, obviously the running wolf, or the fleur de lis. It is tempting to think of this perhaps being the omega, but this is not typically seen used in this manner, and the mark is crudely executed so probably native.

I am imaging by the leather work on hilt and scabbard this might be from Saharan regions from Mali, Burkina Faso as it seems also with Cameroon in mind. Thoughts as well?

Much of Tuareg symbolism can be found on material culture items of course, and jewelry. I recently acquired the 1958 "Au Sahara" by Jean Gabus, and on p.60, this type mark is used in linear fashion on boxes in the silver thread.
It is described as 'haver' or sabot (Fr.=hoof).
So my question is, why would this 'hoof' mark be so placed on the blade?

We know that the familiar dual moons (dukari) are intended to imbue magic into the blade. We are still unclear on what the 'enigma' mark which seems to have been from the Agadez regions of Air in Niger c. 1916.

Any ideas on the symbolism of a horse hoof in Tuareg parlance?
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Old 14th August 2022, 05:06 PM   #2
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Jim,

Interesting question. Symbolic analysis get pretty fuzzy pretty quickly, especially in an African & Islamic context. Cutting to "ownership", we recall that the Fung used to "drum & sticks" aka "cross & orb" to mark their possessions, including slaves. Camels were/are branded in accordance with tribal section and family identity. See Sudan Notes & Records, Hill, On Camel Brands SNR V.53, 1972 & Arkell, The History of Darfur 1200-17--AD, SNR v.32 #2, 1951,p.18

Tribal marks are also seen in rock pictures in Northern Darfur, Arkell, SNR V.29, 1937.

Of course the mark on your sword may not be to signify ownership, but could be a makers mark like seen on imported and locally made trade blades. Indeed, the blades appears (due to the fullers) to be a repurposed single edge blade. Although we have seen brass filled holes on blades as well.

The bottom line, "beats me"

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Ed
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Old 14th August 2022, 08:00 PM   #3
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Thank you for answering Ed! and as always, your observations are well placed, and we're on the same page. I was thinking that the mark probably was adopted by some local armorer using it as his mark for a sword he assembled. However, as the 'horseshoe' seems to have been some sort of design popular in Tuareg items and jewelry, the talismanic or magical potential which seems potentially well known as a symbol. In their folk religion and tradition symbolism reigns supreme, as you have noted.
The stick and drums are apparently derived from the cross and orb (as you note) and used as an ownership mark by the Funj, but it seems in other parlance noted may also be relating to tribal rank, such as chief.

I agree, we are still static as far as plausible explanations, but who knows where this goes. I hope readers out there might have seen this mark and might have ideas they would share.
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Old 14th August 2022, 08:23 PM   #4
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Yep, anyone who consciously employs a publicly viewed symbol does so to establish or enhance their personal or social identity. Dress, body art, brand of car, type of entertainment, sword type and marks are attempting to send a message. Unfortunately, at this juncture we (ignorant of the relevant cultural context) are still trying to figure out Who was trying to say What to Whom.
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Old 15th August 2022, 03:10 AM   #5
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... Unfortunately, at this juncture we (ignorant of the relevant cultural context) are still trying to figure out Who was trying to say What to Whom.
Well said Ed!!!
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Old 15th August 2022, 02:43 PM   #6
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Again, I very much agree with you Ed. We in general do not have a significant grasp of the cultural demeanor, character or beliefs of these people. This is further complicated by the fact that while these Saharan groups are in general Berber, the texture of the clan or tribal subgroups vary with their own idiosyncracies .
Clearly with that being the case, as with any attempt to interpret any sort of arcane thinking linked to symbolic representation without recorded explanations by those using them cannot be irrefutably accurate.

However, it does seem possible to plausibly link examples of the use of certain symbols through consistencies in context and application. For example, with the much more familiar 'dukari' or crescent moons widely known on many takouba blades (in degree on Sudanese as well in the diffusion noted) it seems reasonably established that these are presumed to represent broadly the imbuement of 'magic' in the blade itself.
While we cannot know the exact interpretation of the dynamics of this imbuing, we know that talismanic value is extensively represented by symbolic use of figures and devices in the Berber sphere.

The objective here is to hopefully collect examples of like symbols to establish any consistencies in their presence on exemplars of weapons with certain regional character or provenance otherwise available.

The example of takouba I have posted here is peculiar in being 'aljuinar', that is having a saber type blade as opposed to more typical broadsword blades of takouba. It is European and likely 18th century.
From notes I just found, its provenance is from Ouagadougoo in Burkina Faso where it was acquired there sometime over 30 years ago and I got it from the guy who originally acquired it some 20 years ago.

While I deemed the curious mark at the center of the blade to be of 'horseshoe' character, it is more clearly an arc with dots at each end, rather similar to the 'sickle' marks of dual arcs (usually dentated) of 'Genoa' and which have three dots at each end.

I have seen takouba with this 'Genoan' marking approximated with paired arcs but plain, no dentation, and with single dot at each end. Could the mark on my sword simply be 'reduced' from that application? as we have agreed, we cannot possibly know, but the possibility is clearly there.

We have seen the dukari (paired moons) used consistently in virtually the same application on takouba blades. I have seen suggestions that certain symbolism in folk religions etc. regards 'duality' , which of course is something I cannot adequately discuss here. With that, the concept seems reasonably presumed with the moons.
So then, would the dentated arcs of the so called sickle marks of Genoa be seen in the same light, representing duality in some sense. Might the dentation on the arcs represent light from the moon? and the arcs be the surface?

I have seen many examples of blades where other devices were used in the same configuration and placement of the crescent moons, which suggest a duality representation as noted, but with obviously different symbolic figures.
Some of these were the letter P (?) but in simple arcs. Dual arrow type figures transposed to look like a W, in dual application and others.

While I realize that this clearly seems a bit overthought (ya think?) , I felt that maybe if I offered more explanation of what I am trying to achieve here it might seem worthy of at least more consideration, perhaps even to the level of discussion. It seems the numerous writers who have attempted to take this course over the last century (Rodd, Lhote, Morel, Zohrer, and of course Briggs, et al) at least tried to find reasonable understanding of these markings phenomenon, and I could try as well to continue, despite being far from their stature.

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Old 15th August 2022, 02:57 PM   #7
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...While I deemed the curious mark at the center of the blade to be of 'horseshoe' character, it is more clearly an arc with dots at each end ...
Yes, i was hesitating to enter, to say that i also saw (separate) dots; even one of them with a 'buttton' look ... so to say .
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Old 15th August 2022, 04:55 PM   #8
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Yes, i was hesitating to enter, to say that i also saw (separate) dots; even one of them with a 'buttton' look ... so to say .
Well noted Fernando, and this is the case in point, perception.
While my initial reaction was that the mark, to me, resembled a horseshoe, It is hard to determine what the individual placing the mark intended. In reading through Gabus(1958) a marking which resembles the Greek letter omega (an arc with voluted ends) seems used widely in Tuareg context in decoration, and termed 'horseshoe'.

This recalls cases where the Tuareg, seeing the cross and orb marking as used on German blades, as a drum and sticks. This seems to have been seen as representative of a chief, or in terms of authority. As Ed has noted, in Funj parlance, this mark was used to mark property, so in essence similar as representing authority or 'ownership'.

In other cases, the European markings known a 'the doll' or 'fly' were seen by Tuaregs in accord, but in their parlance the fly was symbolic of a brave and skilled warrior (the leaping and evasive tactics in combat situation?).

While it was tempting to think of the horseshoe in the widely held symbolism in Europe and other of 'good luck', it is unclear what the Tuareg perception of the omega like mark or this dotted arc might be.Though we of course do not know, it does seem worthy of note and consideration to possibilities.
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Old 15th August 2022, 06:01 PM   #9
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Jim,

The arc looks to me to be rinsed, perhaps an inlay rather than an indented/stamped mark. If correct to me that would place the mark into a "higher??" category of presentation and rarity. Also, do the dot go all the way through the blade & what if anything else is on the back side? Getting curiouser and curiouser.
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Old 15th August 2022, 06:42 PM   #10
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Jim,

The arc looks to me to be rinsed, perhaps an inlay rather than an indented/stamped mark. If correct to me that would place the mark into a "higher??" category of presentation and rarity. Also, do the dot go all the way through the blade & what if anything else is on the back side? Getting curiouser and curiouser.
Thank you Ed, the dots are indented, not through.
What does rinse mean?
Higher category?
Curiouser and curioser story of my life

Also note this sword originated in Ouagadougou. The leather wrapped hilt recalls the contiguous regions of Cameroon and Mali, especially Mali known for leather work with the Manding. With these regions of course having the availability of blades from French occupation, it heightens the use of saber type blades as found in the familiar Manding sabers.
With Tuareg pommel style and the other features brought together, it begs the question whether the 'aljuinar' style takouba is more prevalent in these West African areas of the Sahara.
Perhaps this marking is also somewhat indiginous to these areas as well?

Wondering if such markings ever turned up on Manding blades?
Pictured regular Manding saber of Mali, blade is unremarkable so unclear if trade or perhaps local? no markings.
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Old 15th August 2022, 08:08 PM   #11
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To my eyes the semi-circle looks above the surface of the blade; could be shadowing, and not below the surface as a stamp. Could just be my eyes and the photograph. An indented stamp is a typical mark, but a raised inlay would seem special.
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Old 15th August 2022, 10:02 PM   #12
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To my eyes the semi-circle looks above the surface of the blade; could be shadowing, and not below the surface as a stamp. Could just be my eyes and the photograph. An indented stamp is a typical mark, but a raised inlay would seem special.
That truly is interesting Ed, I dont have the sword handy right now so cant say for sure, but if this were raised I would have noted it as that would be incredibly unusual. I cannot say I have ever seen such an application. How would this be carried out on a European blade long after original production?
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Old 15th August 2022, 11:11 PM   #13
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I can only guess from First Principles: Like the dots, a semi-circle could be deeply engraved with an internal lip and an alloy heated and hammered into the depression. Hopefully, someone who really knows how to do the inlay can join in to correct my guess. The raised part looks corroded/rusted? so the alloy may be a low grade iron. What alloy would react like that; relatively soft and oxidable? Of course this process may be made of Whole Cloth. :-)
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