Refuting the Myth: "No African Swords" - The Diversity of Weapons in Africa

May 2018
126
On earth.
#1
A long time ago, a forum user, Son of Ra, made a series of posts related to africa, refuting common myths. I thought they were great, still do for that matter, and I thought I'd give it a go. People simply don't seem to realize that Africans had swords, or any weapon besides spears, which, by itself makes no sense, seeing as to how Khopesh are by default African swords (Egypt is in africa), but, whatever.
Anyway, I thought I'd explore other regions of the continent for this threat :)

Shotel - Ethiopian / Eritrean (East African)
Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 10.06.24 PM.png (diagram courtesy of Richard Francis Burton, The Book of the Sword)
This sword appears to be an ancient one, used in Ethiopia and Eritrea since the Aksumite empire. There are different varients of it, with different variants of curvature. Generally, they were used to stab around shields, puncturing with the tip.

Ida - Yoruba (West African)
Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 10.02.26 PM.png (diagram courtesy of Robert Smith, Yoruba Armament )
Among the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria, Ida generally referred to long swords, and there's a myriad of designs that were used. This is one of my favorites, and also one of the more simple types. Reminds me a bit of a gladius, to be honest. Apparently, these blades were occasionaly re-enforced with poison, dang...

Lobale - Congolese (Central African):

I can't exactlky find out where this sword came from (which state, culture, ethnicity, or tribe), but Central Africa generally has some amazing and elegant swords. This is one of them. Likely more ceremonial in nature, but still awesome looking.

Bakatwa - Shona Peoples (Southern African):

I suppose that if there's one region where the "no swords" stereotype can be applied with some accuracy, it's southern Africa, as they were more busy with other interesting weapons, but a weapon that can fit the mold here is the Bakatwa. These are daggers, but are made long enough to be considered short swords frequently.

Akrafena - Asante (West African):

The Akrafna is one of my favorite blades from the continent. These ones were probably more ceremonial in nature, but were also used for war. As the images show, could have different patterns forged into them.

Some other really cool weapons:

<- A depiction by Angus Mcbride, depicting shona peoples welding one of these axes:
<- Zimbabwean Stamp depicting Gatsi Rusere, a Mutapan ruler, weilding the same type of axe.

<- Mambele throwing knives, used commonly in the Congo. They'd be throne to rotate, inflicting extreme wounds on hit.

Maybe I'll post more later
 
Jan 2018
43
Yopaw
#2
Thank you for your images but I would like more details about the history of swords in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is the oldest evidence for a Sub-Saharan African sword? What specific group produced sword and using what material and processes? Has a word for "sword" been reconstructed for proto-Bantu or proto-Niger-Congo? We know from studies by the ethnolinguist Christopher Erhet that proto-Niger-Congo used bows and arrows, but what about swords?
 
May 2018
126
On earth.
#4
Thank you for your images but I would like more details about the history of swords in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is the oldest evidence for a Sub-Saharan African sword? What specific group produced sword and using what material and processes? Has a word for "sword" been reconstructed for proto-Bantu or proto-Niger-Congo? We know from studies by the ethnolinguist Christopher Erhet that proto-Niger-Congo used bows and arrows, but what about swords?
For your first question, the first Sub Saharan swords likely came up in Sudan (whether or not you consider that sub saharan africa, it was the first "black african" region to obtain swords. Metullurgy in West Africa popped up somewhere around 1000-500BC,, so the local development of swords naturally occured later than in other regions of the world.
As far as my knowledge, there has been no reconstruction of a word for "sword" - finding any information regarding proto "Niger-Congo" is a hellscape, and there's a number of reasons; lack of study into them, lack of translated written transcription, etc. However, given what I do know, reconstructing a word for "sword" in either proto-nigercongo or proto-bantu would be nigh impossible.
As for who created swords and using what material and processes? All the swords whose images I've displayed are accompanied by their respective ethnic, or stately origin. If I were to list every African Ethnicity that made swords, this thread would surely get too long, so, for convenience sake, swords were widespread in East Africa, including the horn, West Africa, Central Africa, and I believe Madagascar, though, admittedly, my knowledge on that region is lacking. These swords were generally made of iron or steel, though multiple peoples utilized gold for ceremonial swords.

I have a question regarding the first sword from Ethiopia - which edge is sharp?
It depends.
Richard Francis Burton states that the edge was on the inside of the blade, but other accounts also have these swords being double edged.
 
Jan 2018
43
Yopaw
#6
Thank you.

As for who created swords and using what material and processes? All the swords whose images I've displayed are accompanied by their respective ethnic, or stately origin. If I were to list every African Ethnicity that made swords, this thread would surely get too long, so, for convenience sake, swords were widespread in East Africa, including the horn, West Africa, Central Africa, and I believe Madagascar, though, admittedly, my knowledge on that region is lacking. These swords were generally made of iron or steel, though multiple peoples utilized gold for ceremonial swords.
My question is on the processes used to make them, and an evaluation of their quality. Did they harden their sword for example?
 
Likes: Joyboy13

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,594
Benin City, Nigeria
#7
I suppose that if there's one region where the "no swords" stereotype can be applied with some accuracy, it's southern Africa
This isn't really correct. The largest and most important precolonial state that ever existed in southern Africa is explicitly noted as making use of swords, as I mentioned on this forum years ago in another thread.

Duarte Barbosa, in 1514, wrote of the weapons used by the soldiers of Monomotapa:

"They carry swords thrust into wooden scabbards bound with much gold and other metals, worn on the left side, as with us, in cloth girdles which they make for this purpose with four or five knots with hanging tassels to denote men of rank. They also carry assegais in their hands, and others carry bows and arrows of middle size, being not so long as those of the English and not so short as those of the Turks."

He mentioned the swords first then mentioned that they also carry spears.
Swords were used all throughout Africa.

Also interesting to note, although tangential to the thread, is that there was armor in use in certain states in western, central and eastern Africa.

Jean Barbot, writing in the late 17th century, noted of the people of the Agona subgroup of the Fante, in the Gold Coast (now the Republic of Ghana, in west Africa), that:

"The natives are expert at works in gold and iron, making curious gold rings and chains, and very fine armour and weapons; which they sell along the coast, and particularly at Accra." - Jean Barbot, A Description of the Coasts of North and South Guinea

There are also some mentions of the use of armor, swords, axes, etc. in some German descriptions of parts of the Gold Coast from the 17th century as well.

Unfortunately little surviving evidence of the armor used by some states south of the Sahara exists now except for a few items from the central Sudan and the armor that can be seen in some surviving west African and east African artwork.
 
May 2018
126
On earth.
#9
Not necessarily commenting on that particular image, but in general I don't think his depictions of African soldiers or warriors are very good or well informed. Just my opinion.
Generally, I'd agree. I can't really blame him either, reference material is hard to come by, that being said, sometimes he will pop out a gem, like that Dahomey Amazon lady on the left.
 
May 2018
126
On earth.
#10
This isn't really correct. The largest and most important precolonial state that ever existed in southern Africa is explicitly noted as making use of swords, as I mentioned on this forum years ago in another thread.
Which state are you citing here, because if you're referring to the Monomotapa, then I don't think I ever stated that the Shona peoples didn't use swords, infact, I linked one in my thread. The Monomotapa were Shona, I believe.
 

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