dagger (weapons: edged); sheath (weapons: accessories)

1971.1122

This dagger is from a town called Tamanrasset, which is in southern Algeria, approximately 1300 miles south of Algiers. It is made and used by the Tuareg who are a diverse group of people, principally nomads who inhabit the vast swathes of the Sahara desert across present-day Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and even the north of Nigeria. The Tuareg produce quite distinctive items of jewellery and other utensils that are recognisable by their highly decorated leatherwork dyed with indigo and polished with beeswax with raised and embossed patterns and tassles. There are several types of weapons that are used, which exclude the throwing knife but include the takouba (a long sword), the allarh (lance), the tellak (a small dagger) and the sheru (or gozma), a longer dagger such as this item which is approximately 40cm in length. The exquisite details illustrate the Tuareg skill in leatherwork design. The handle is made out of wood, thus protecting its owner from coming into direct contact with the metal blade which is likely to be of European manufacture. For various reasons – including the impurity of steel and its tendency to rust as well as the mysteries and fear that surround blacksmiths themselves (as across most societies in Africa) – the Tuareg have a strong aversion to coming into direct contact with the metal.

More information

Spring, Christopher, 1993. African arms and armour. London: British Museum Press p.28

fighting

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