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

Jul 2019
137
Ghana
I took this picture myself during the Odwira festival in Amanokrom, Akuapem Hills, southern Ghana. A young swordbearer carrying an Akrafena in a traditional leather sheath, decorated with a brass sculpture of the Adinkra symbol Funtumfunafu Dɛnkyɛmfunefu, the conjoined crocodiles that fight over food, even though they share the same belly. A symbol for unity in diversity.
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I also took this one, of a chief at Amanokrom in full regalia. 4 Akrafena at his feet
Odwira 1 copy.jpg


And this one, of a fetish in Akropong during the funeral of the Omanhene of Akuapem with a small afena
Akuapem fetish Akropong funeral Omanhene.jpg


I did not take the following photographs

Akrafena of King Kofi Karikari of Ashanti, 19th century
Afena Akrafena sword of King Kofi Karikari of Ashanti ghana african.jpg

Another Ashanti example, in its sheath:
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The Asantehene Opoku Ware II, the golden stool, and Akrafena in their original context, as symbols of royal power, and reminders of oaths taken:
Asantehene.jpg
 
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Jul 2019
137
Ghana
A magnificent Tuareg Takouba sword with Tifinagh inscriptions
Tuareg Touareg sword Tifinagh script inscribed inscription.jpg
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A Sudanese Kaskara
Kaskara Sudan Sudanese sword.jpg


A Kaskara in the hands of a prominent Mahdist:
Dervish-Emir Mahdi follower Naaman emir of the tribe of Baggara.jpg


Eritrean Shotel
Eritrea Shotel sword.jpg



Sword bearers of the Oba of Benin:
Benin swordbearer Nigeria.jpgBWB008.jpg

BWB001.jpg
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,638
Benin City, Nigeria
The first picture is of Oba Akenzua II.

The second picture is of the Ero of Benin in 1981.

Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Museum of Art

The third picture is of Oba Erediauwa.

The fourth picture is of a modern Olowo of Owo. Owo was a Yoruba kingdom which was a different state from the kingdom of Benin in precolonial Nigeria. There was some influence from Benin on Owo, hence why there is some similarity in attire and why they are also using the leaf shaped ceremonial sword (eben) and the scimitar shaped ceremonial sword (ada) in that photograph.

 
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Jul 2019
137
Ghana
Thanks for the correction and extra info!

The fourth picture is of a modern Olowo of Owo, a Yoruba kingdom which was a different kingdom from the kingdom of Benin in precolonial Nigeria. There was some influence of Benin on Owo, hence why there is some similarity in attire and why they are also using the leaf shaped ceremonial sword (eben) and the scimitar shaped ceremonial sword (ada).
I'd never heard of Owo before... I like their terracottas! Almost as nice as Ife!
African terracotta sculpture bust woman Owo Nigeria history.jpg


Some more swords:

Firstly, a gilded khopesh from Sudan! It's from Zuma, an archaeological site 40 km downstream from Napata/Jebel Barkal (one of the Kushite capitals) and 10 km south of El Kurru, Upper Nubia. The archaeological site is associated with post-meroitic to early Christian Nubian tumuli graves, but the khopesh may have come from an as of yet undiscovered Kushite or perhaps even New Kingdom Egyptian gravesite. Personally I think the most attractive tentative explanation is that these Post-Meroites may have supplemented their own grave goods with items looted from the nearby royal Kushite cemeteries (both Napatan and Meroitic period). It's said that the khopesh went out of use during the New Kingdom but Kushite royal inscriptions keep mentioning the weapon with some regularity throughout the Napatan period, and a late khopesh-like weapon is depicted in a 1st century BC Meroitic relief from a victory stele.
Khopesh Copper-alloy (gilded) scimitar from Khor Ali Karrar in ez-Zuma Nubia Sudan Kush Kushite.jpg


Victory stele of King Tanyidamani
Victory stele of King Tanyidemani top detail Kushite Khopesh.jpg



Meroitic short sword tucked away in the belt of Prince Arikankharer, 1st century AD. The shape of the scabbard, with its broadened tip, is the same as the shape of the scabbards used for the medieval Sudanese Kaskara swords.
25b Prince_Arikankharer_Slaying_His_Enemies,_Meroitic,_beginning_of_first_century_AD,_sandston...JPG


Modern Sudanese man with a Kaskara, pointing at a Meroitic period Kushite relief in a pyramid chapel at Begrawiya, Meroë
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150 cm long sword from the Post-Meroitic X-group or Ballana Culture (Ballana and Qustul), Lower Nubia (c. 300 - 600 AD)
Ballana and Qustul X group Lower Nubian Iron Steel sword 150cm.jpg



Another Shotel, belonging to a nobleman from Tigray
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Benin (Edo) sword:
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Ashanti Akrafena
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Of course, the Ashanti preferred muskets for actual combat
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Aug 2017
9
Cape Town
Interesting, extremely curved. I wouldn't believe the first one to be a sword rather than a sickle hadn't I seen its sheet. Hard to figure out how it was used, why would they sacrifice so much reach just for more arch? Almost impossible to slash anyone having a spear with it. Seems like it wasn't a weapon for systematic, formation battle.
The Shotel was used specifically to counter combatants wearing a shield. You would swing it and thanks to the curvature the tip would get around the shield, piercing the opponent in the side or slashing his back. If he tried to push the sword away with his shield, he would just make matters worse, tearing the blade through his own flesh.

A while ago I watched a documentary with the guy who does the Machete movies. They would forge historical weapons and then try to figure out how they were used - In this particular episode they covered the Shotel as well as the Congolese throwing knife pictured in the first post.

Here is the short version, shows both the stabbing and the tearing:


If you are interested in how the sword is made, you can probably find the full episode somewhere.
 
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