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Old 20th April 2021, 01:49 AM   #1
kahnjar1
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Default Sudanese Kaskara for Comment

This Kaskara was a WW1 bring back from Sudan. The scabbard is either Lizard or Snake skin and in quite good order for age. The blade is double edged and as can be seen is decorated with plenty of script. If anyone can give a translation I would appreciate it.
All comments welcome
Also with the sword came 2 knives with bone handles.
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Old 20th April 2021, 01:46 PM   #2
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Nice old sword. The thuluth etching is common on a "type" related to the Mahdiya movement that was mainly destroyed after the 1898 Battle of Omdurman and the subsequent tracking down & death of the Khalifa. Also, the copper alloy cast crossguard is almost exclusively associated with the thuluth blade. The blade may have been made from sheet steel. The inscriptions usually are religious platitudes; some were even not words , but nonsense. The snake (?) skin covered scabbard likely had a talismanic role. The sword has symbolic value rather than for battle and likely carried by unit commanders.

There has been some debate on the Forum as to when & where and for whom these swords were made. Jim is much more knowledgeable on this than I am.

I tend to think these swords had a kind of "Lost Cause" quality to them, but I have no evidence of this. Not even sure why I mentioned it.

Regards,
Ed
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Old 20th April 2021, 08:29 PM   #3
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Here is a 2018 JAAS article that links Sudanese thuluth decoration to Persian Sufi (Qajar) weapons influence. While good info is presented, I think the link is very speculative. Mainly because Sudanese sufi traditions came from Arabian sufi masters rather than Persian. Also, my reading of Sudanese history doesn't support Persian influence unless the Persians critically influenced the Ottomans of Egypt. Anyway, the article's position is worth adding to the debate.

https://www.researchgate.net/publica..._MAHDIST_SUDAN

JAAS Vol.XXII, No. 5, 2018.

Best,
Ed
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Old 21st April 2021, 12:14 AM   #4
Jim McDougall
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Thank you Ed,
I do have a profound fascination with the Sudan, and in fact I was involved in some research several years ago concerning thuluth and the Mahdist weaponry. While I cannot claim any particular expertise, I did learn quite a lot toward better understanding of these weapons.

While the swords (termed sa'if, but now colloquially known as kaskara) were not widely used tribally in Sudan prior to the Mahdiyya (1883-1898) but in degree were known to some tribes in the south. Clearly they became required as Mahdist forces assembled. However, during the time of the Mahdi until his death in 1885, there was not a notable use of thuluth in the manner seen in these profusely covered blades.

The Caliph, in succeeding the Mahdi, was faced with a dilemma. He needed to advance the Jihad, but the Mahdi who was a divine figure in the movement, had died mortally, which of course led to concerns.
He needed to find symbolic and fervor instilling means to inspire the Ansar onward, and legitimize his position as the leader acting on behalf of the Mahdi. The Ansar believed in the magic of the Mahdi, and the metaphor and similes of the 'Sword of the Mahdi' became key aspects of the ongoing Jihad.

The use of acid etched thuluth was a known process used by the Mamluks who had been situated in Sennar, and Shendy and they had been long standing purveyors of arms and armor as well as active in slave trading.

After the fall of Khartoum, the huge industrial complex, shops, tools and metal supply were captured, mostly move to the arsenal at Omdurman. Here the process of outfitting ordnance, weapons etc. was undertaken in huge volume. Here the familiar acid etched blades were produced, and not only on kaskara blades, but on many other weapon forms as they came in with the many conscripted forces from tribes in other regions brought their arms.

The thuluth inscriptions were intended to render each of these weapons effectively 'a sword of the Mahdi' and each warrior advancing in HIS charge. The phrases, invocations and platitudes are simply repeated, in more of a decorative manner, but still actual wording in degree. It was once thought they were more of an 'arabesque' and jibberish, and that to illiterate natives it didnt matter, but that was not the case.

To these Ansar warriors, their weapons were emblazoned with the words and spirit of the Mahdi, and they fully believed he was with them in battle.

This example is shorter as they were worn in scabbard over the shoulder and under the arm, sort of a shoulder holster. The lizard hide, much as with crocodile, is very totemic to these people traditionally. As Ed has noted, the brass guards were quite typical in these ersatz weapons produced for the Caliph's forces imbued with the spirit and magic of the Mahdi.

Most of the thuluth covered blades were consistent in totally covering the blade, and the breaks with these roundels is more consistent with the Mamluk style motif, on the sa'if from which the kaskara evolved. It was these Islamic broadswords, not Crusader examples as romantically held by early writers, that were the source for the kaskara.

These thuluth covered weapons were also used on the battlefield by the Holy Men who attended to those fallen with required blessings etc.

I agree with Ed on the Persian influences here, as while Sufi, they were filtered through the Arabian conduit, so these positions must be factored accordingly.
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Old 21st April 2021, 03:52 AM   #5
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Jim and Ed, thanks for bringing your expertise to this thread. I would also like to point out Ed's detailed essays on the kaskara that can be found on the Ethnographic Arms and Armor Home Page of this site, under "Africa." This is important reading for all who are interested in the kaskara.
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Old 21st April 2021, 04:21 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Jim and Ed, thanks for bringing your expertise to this thread. I would also like to point out Ed's detailed essays on the kaskara that can be found on the Ethnographic Arms and Armor Home Page of this site, under "Africa." This is important reading for all who are interested in the kaskara.
Absolutely Ian, and I was remiss in not mentioning those, which honestly furnished some of the most important detail on the production of kaskara and their characteristics with variations. What I learned from his field research on these gave me sound foundation with which to proceed in further study.
They are a must for anyone interested in the kaskara!
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Old 21st April 2021, 12:38 PM   #7
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Ian and Jim, thanks. Ah shucks, it weren't nothin!!

But seriously, that kind of research was why I finally pursued anthropology at age 40 after watching Iranian craftsmen during the Peace Corps some 18 years before. We all can appreciate and celebrate your two's passion for digging deep into the ethnographic realms.

And a special thanks to Lee and Ian without whose editing skills the documents would never have seen the light of day.

Best,
Ed
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Old 21st April 2021, 08:58 PM   #8
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Thank you Gentlemen for your information and input. I really appreciate your comments regarding this sword, and particularly to Jim for the History surrounding it.
With regards to the scabbard, is it lizard or snake?
Regards Stu
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Old 21st April 2021, 09:45 PM   #9
Jim McDougall
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kahnjar1
Thank you Gentlemen for your information and input. I really appreciate your comments regarding this sword, and particularly to Jim for the History surrounding it.
With regards to the scabbard, is it lizard or snake?
Regards Stu

Im really glad I could help Stu, it a fascinating example!
The hide if I am not mistaken is the 'monitor lizard' or Waran (genus Varanus, Ar, =varan, lizard)., which is apparently quite totemic along with the crocodile in the Sudan.

The material I am referring to on thuluth is mostly from research as I had the opportunity to work with Professor Allan Roberts, of the University of California who edited the book, "Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths" , UCLA, 2018.
His paper was titled "For Whose Eyes Were They: Calligraphic Blades of Mahdist Sudan", and describes the deep religious imbuement in the inscriptions on these blades, and how important they were in the native beliefs and use.
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Old 21st April 2021, 10:10 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kahnjar1
With regards to the scabbard, is it lizard or snake?
Regards Stu
Normaly they are varan/big lizards, sometimes crocodiles, but yours is a boa.
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Old 21st April 2021, 10:24 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster
Mainly because Sudanese sufi traditions came from Arabian sufi masters rather than Persian. Also, my reading of Sudanese history doesn't support Persian influence unless the Persians critically influenced the Ottomans of Egypt.
Ed
Mmmm I don't know very much about these swords. But I have many books about Sufism.

You should be very careful, and read more about sufism before making any shortcuts or statment like that. Sufism is very much connected to the shiaa world. Please read about Alevi, Sufi Ottoman lodges and Bektashi... Then Egyptian Ottomans were colonisers in Sudan. Sudanese got Sufism from Mamluk Egypt and by the red Sea from Sufi lodges from India, and even Iran.

"Arabian masters" is almost a nonsense, as Arabian peninsular people very were and are very much against Sufism, please look at Wahhabism.
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Old 22nd April 2021, 01:43 AM   #12
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Kubur,

We both have done our homework, but we apparently see the Elephant from different positions. My reading of Sudanese Islam says that its Sunni Sufi orders came from places like Mecca, Iraq, Egypt & even Morocco beginning in the Funj Era (c. 1570) and even in the 19th C. and not from Shi'a Persia. Both Sunni & Shi'a orders have separate founders, history and traditions.

See a 1921 Sudanese Notes & Records article, "The Religious Confraternities of Sudan", attached.

If you get really bored I'll send you a copy of my dissertation about the Rahad Borderlands Study with its section on Popular Islam in the Eastern Sudan in 1984-85.

Since the issue is Persian influences on Sudanese weapons during the Mahdiya, design transmission may be speculatively via Mamluk routes from Egypt and not Sufism.

Best regards,
Ed
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Old 22nd April 2021, 07:32 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster

See a 1921 Sudanese Notes & Records article, "The Religious Confraternities of Sudan", attached.

If you get really bored I'll send you a copy of my dissertation about the Rahad Borderlands Study with its section on Popular Islam in the Eastern Sudan in 1984-85.
Hi Ed,

Thank you very much for your article and if you have a pdf of your study, I'll be happy to read it. I'm sure it won't be boring.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster
See a 1921 Sudanese Notes & Records article, "The Religious Confraternities of Sudan", attached.
1921 is a bit old and a huge amount of litterature has been published on this topic since the past 30 years, I'll be happy to send you some references too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster
My reading of Sudanese Islam says that its Sunni Sufi orders came from places like Iraq, Egypt & even Morocco
Correct but not only

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster
Both Sunni & Shi'a orders have separate founders, history
Correct

Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster
Both Sunni & Shi'a orders have separate... traditions.
This is where you should go deeper, it's more complicated than shiaa and sunni. They have similar traditions.

Best wishes,
Kubur
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Old 22nd April 2021, 01:55 PM   #14
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Kubur,

I'm always eager to learn. Would appreciate good references. Here's a more recent paper by a Sudanese scholar on the Sammaniya order, the one the Mahdi was first associated with and which revived after Omdurman.

https://archive.org/stream/TheSamman...niyya_djvu.txt

Islam has always been worn loosely among Sudan's regular folk; i.e. Popular Islam. Likely there is a "class" component between Orthodox and Popular expressions of Sufism.

Dissertation's file is too large to attach. I'll try to send it via a PM.

Best regards,
Ed
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Old 22nd April 2021, 08:23 PM   #15
Jim McDougall
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Ed and Kubur, absolutely intriguing on these religious matters which were certainly at hand in the uprisings and jihad which were of course the basis for the Mahdiyya, I must admit that I do not fully comprehend these complex matters, but it seems that I read the Mahdi was Sufi, then forbad it? but then it became prevalent again under the Caliph?

Persian influences which prevailed throughout India, Central Asia, Ottoman Empire and Arabia etc. as far as I have known were often 'indirect' but surely notable. While it is sometimes hard to explain the importance of religious character and influence concerning arms, as we rely on decoration and motif in identifying them it is most certainly pertinent.

Stu,
More on the 'thuluth' I found in my notes (passim),
"...workshops set up in towns such as Omdurman produced a range of artifacts including regalia, weaponry and armor which in one way or another reflected the Mahdists ideology, but which occasionally also displayed stylistic influences from much more diverse sources. Among such objects were these
non functional replica throwing knives, cut out of sheet metal and covered with the acid etched Arabic script known as thuluth in which exhortations from the Quran are written. Most likely these were given as Islamicized status symbols to the leaders of the elements of the Mahdist armies that consisted mainly of slaves".
"Art of a Continent", Philips, p.134, as noted by
Christopher Spring.

Also:
"..it is interesting to note that Central African throwing knives were found on the field at Omdurman, having been made at Khartoum. These were carried as an emblem of rank by leaders of certain slave elements of the Mahdist army who were pressed into service".
"Soldiers of the Queen", Victorian Military Society.

Many of these were throwing knives, haladies, and certain curious trowel type knives.
This illustrates, and dispels the notions that these were 'tourist' items, not used in battle, and that the calligraphy was 'jibberish' or nonsensical.
Some of these inscriptions actually note manufacture at Omdurman, and the reference to Khartoum derives from the fact that the arsenal at Khartoum was one of the few buildings not razed by Mahdist forces at its capture in 1885. There were huge supplies of material accumulated by Gordon for infrastructure including railroads and river boats, these and machinery were moved to Omdurman by the Caliph after the Mahdi's death in 1885.

So here is the true picture concerning the familiar calligraphy covered blades of not only kaskara, but the sundry other tribal weapons at Omdurman as well.
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Old 25th April 2021, 07:37 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kahnjar1
This Kaskara was a WW1 bring back from Sudan. The scabbard is either Lizard or Snake skin and in quite good order for age. The blade is double edged and as can be seen is decorated with plenty of script. If anyone can give a translation I would appreciate it.
All comments welcome
Also with the sword came 2 knives with bone handles.
This type of Sudanese weapon tends to fall into the possibly "made for sale" category or genre, the dagger very likely and the sword possibly. The souvenir trade in the Sudan was in fact under way even before the Battle of Omdurman. This subject has been well discussed in the past on the forum and for more information, please refer to the previous posts (with accompanying evidence), by Iain Norman by myself. (For some reason I can't do the link function on my PC, but a search under the terms Sudanese and Mahdist should do the trick).
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Old 27th April 2021, 04:12 PM   #17
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I rather agree with Colin. I have a couple of these and whether they are based on talismanic swords is debatable, but I doubt that any self-respecting Sudanese warrior or leader would wave one of these around and have the blade fly out of the hilt (which would certainly be the result). So I'm not convinced that these are even for local use as ranks or emblems - rather I think they were produced for sale.
Yes, for sure there are examples of worthy weapons with thuluth, but they are few and far between. These others appear to be more or less mass produced and follow the same pattern based on etched flat sheet steel, no fixing of the blade to the hilt (its just pushed in and padded), and usually brass non-functional or very thin iron guards. All topped off with a crocodile hilt, often with legs. The small bone handled daggers, and triple dagger sets being equally non-functional and from the same steel, also sporting crocodile clothes.

As objects of study, and interest they are actually quite nice but not to be confused with functional kaskara.
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Old 27th April 2021, 05:34 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edster View Post
Kubur,

We both have done our homework, but we apparently see the Elephant from different positions. My reading of Sudanese Islam says that its Sunni Sufi orders came from places like Mecca, Iraq, Egypt & even Morocco beginning in the Funj Era (c. 1570) and even in the 19th C. and not from Shi'a Persia. Both Sunni & Shi'a orders have separate founders, history and traditions.

See a 1921 Sudanese Notes & Records article, "The Religious Confraternities of Sudan", attached.

If you get really bored I'll send you a copy of my dissertation about the Rahad Borderlands Study with its section on Popular Islam in the Eastern Sudan in 1984-85.

Since the issue is Persian influences on Sudanese weapons during the Mahdiya, design transmission may be speculatively via Mamluk routes from Egypt and not Sufism.

Best regards,
Ed
Thank you for the 1921 Sudan document.

I'd mention that the Sufic influence came from as far West as Spain in the form of Ibn Arabi who dates to the late 1100s, and whose travels took him across North Africa.
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Old 27th April 2021, 05:44 PM   #19
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Mmmm I don't know very much about these swords. But I have many books about Sufism.

You should be very careful, and read more about sufism before making any shortcuts or statment like that. Sufism is very much connected to the shiaa world. Please read about Alevi, Sufi Ottoman lodges and Bektashi... Then Egyptian Ottomans were colonisers in Sudan. Sudanese got Sufism from Mamluk Egypt and by the red Sea from Sufi lodges from India, and even Iran.

"Arabian masters" is almost a nonsense, as Arabian peninsular people very were and are very much against Sufism, please look at Wahhabism.
indeed, I agree, as also centuries prior to the Madhi you had in the 13th century the Persian founders of the Mevlani ;Jalal ad-Din Rumi and Haci Bektas Veli of the Bektashi order, next to the 11th century Hakim Ghiyath-al-Din Abu'l-Fath Omar ibn Ibrahim Khayyam Nisaburi AKA Omar Kayam ( known from his Rubiyat) and Ibn Arabi who both influenced the complete Islamic world.
Even the followers of the Old Man on the Mountain of the Nizari who were the most closest to cold weapons used whatever was available..

Next to the fact that I am sceptical when I hear about sufi weapons... as if one would talk about catholic, protestant or greek orthodox weapons...?

Even in the regions were sufis live, they live amongst many other religions ( check Egypt, Lebanon. Irak and Syria in the Mahdi era... ) Even the Sudan harboured many religions...so I am quite doubtfull, no offfence intended.

Last edited by gp; 27th April 2021 at 08:03 PM.
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