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KNIFE
AFRICAN ETHNOGRAPHIC COLLECTION
 
Catalog No: 90.2/ 6422 A
Country: EGYPT
Material: HIDE (ANIMAL & REPTILE), METAL, BONE, CLAW
Dimensions: L:59 W:4.1 (in CM)
Acquisition Year: 1974 [TRANSFER]
Donor: MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
Keywords: KNIFE
Category: EQUIPMENT
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This knife, donated by the Museum of the City of New York in 1974 was collected in the Sudan, now called the Republic of the Sudan, located directly south of Egypt in North-Eastern Africa and incorporating the historical lands Nubia (Sudan 2017). Sudanese knives are usually single-bladed and straight, but this knife is double-bladed and curved, therefore posing many questions to its origin and use. The African Ethnology Curatorial Notes Research Lab team continuously investigates these questions to better understand the history and context of several similar examples of this rare style of weapon in the AMNH collection.

Our research has indicated the knife was identified as a haladie, a dagger with two short, curved blades connecting by a straight bone handle. Haladies are associated with the Rajput, or warrior caste, of India (Stone 275). The haladie shares many similarities with the ancient Maduvu, a dagger made from two black buck horns protruding in opposite directions from a small leather or iron shield (Stone 423). The Maduvu is affiliated with the Bhil tribes of South India and is commonly used in the sword-fighting counterpart of the Indian Martial Art, Silambam. Silambam focuses on self-defense (Raj 3) and it is possible that the Maduvu, and potentially the haladie, are used for similar purposes.

This haladie is difficult to date; nevertheless, we believe that the design of the knife could have been transported to the Sudan through ancient trade routes stretching from the Malabar coast to North Africa. Another possibility is that the knife style arrived in the Sudan during the Sudanese Mahdi State’s rebellion against an invading Great Britain between 1881-1899 (Sudan 2017), it could be speculated that this movement gained sympathy within British-colonized India.

The material composition of the knife was investigated using a UV and broad spectrum light (Brueker) microscope, X-Ray imaging, and CT scanning (featured in the Museum’s exhibit Picturing Science: Museum Specialists and Imaging Technologies from 2011-2014). We found that the hilt is made of large mammal bone with a series of small circular carvings incised into it, likely with a metal blade. Furthermore, the shape of the hilt shows that it is ergonomic (for both right and left-handed users); however, it does not show much wear, indicating that it may have been used for purposes other than warfare.

The leather cord on the sheath is likely to be goat, based on its color and pliability. The reptile skin is young Nile crocodile with additional repairs done with monitor lizard skin. The thread conclude is sisal, the woven fiber is either a species of elephant grass or palm leaf.

Based on rusting patterns, the blades are iron. They contain script resembling Thuluth and Kufic. This script does not spell any particular word. This style is known as pseudo-script, meaning “false”-script (Pseudo 2007). Pseudo-script enhances the overall aesthetic design of the object, further evidence for the interpretation that this knife was not used for combat but perhaps as a symbol of military, political or cultural power.

Researcher: Mia Weinstein (2018) and Emma Spencer (2012-3)

Resources:
North, A. (1986). Introduction to Islamic arms. London: H.M.S.O.
Pseudo. (2007, September). Retrieved from http://www.oed.com.proxy.library.nyu.edu/view/Entry/153742?rskey=B3EQC4&result=2&isAdvanced=false
Raj, J. M. (1977). The Origin and the Historical Development of Silambam Fencing: An ancient self-defense sport of India(Doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, 1977). Eugene, OR: University of Oregon.
Stone, G. C. (1934). A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor. Portland, Me.: Southworth Press.
Sudan. (2017). In P. Lagasse, & Columbia University, The Columbia encyclopedia (7th ed.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.


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