Category: Knife

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Yesterday I posted about the gile knife of Sembene on the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful”. After a little more research I found a few photos of the gile knife being worn in the Afra region of Ethiopia. According to the source of these photos, the gile is the Ethiopian version of the Yemeni jambiya. The gile is still worn today.

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I recently started watching the Showtime series Penny Dreadful. So far I am enjoying it. I wouldn’t say that it is scary, but it is definitely a fun mash-up of various 19th century monsters and the occult. being set in Victorian London (1891) does’t hurt the show, either! The enigmatic Sembene is one of my favorite characters and I am looking forward to learning more of his backstory;

Sembene was a Senegalese man who was a longtime acquaintance of Sir Malcolm Murray. Sembene served as Sir Malcolm’s manservant in which he also performed the role of sentry and confidant. He had an air of mystery and his heroic efforts proved invaluable in Sir Malcolm’s personal quest.

As far as I have watched, Sembene is the only character who uses an edged weapon (short sword or big knife). Sir Malcolm has a sword cane, but meh. I prefer Sembene’s weapon. Which brings me to my point–Sembene appears to favor a short sword usually associated with the Afar people of Djibouti, and known as a gile or jile. I suppose he took a liking to the gile while traveling with Sir Malcolm as opposed to it being a weapon of his homeland.

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Image source: Swords and Antique Arms

African Weapons:

AfricanArms.com showcases a beautifully photographed collection of African weapons.

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African Swords and Shield

From left to right:

  • Knife/short sword of the Yaka people of Congo
  • Seme short sword/knife of the Maasai people of Kenya
  • Knife/short sword of the Fang people of Cameroon
  • Rhinoceros hide shield of the Amhara people of Ethiopia

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Three African Weapons

A Ngombe executioneer’s sword. A sickle knife, Mangbetu. And a throwing knife, Zande.

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Eight Various African Edged Weapons

The first of the Zande, Arungara or Abarambo tribe, of russet iron, the sickle-shaped blade with beak-like projection at the back, and slender haft with scrolled bar at the base above the grip (binding missing); a Congolese hatchet of the Ngbandi tribe, with broad double-edged blade widening to a hooked rounded point, incised with line decoration and inlaid with four copper ovals on each side, pierced ricasso with incised line decoration, and waisted wooden grip bound with iron, copper and brass ribbon; a Congolese throwing knife with curved blade decorated with incised line and punched decoration, widening to form a double-edged rounded point inlaid with three copper dots on each side of the hooked extension, and with wooden grip bound with iron and brass ribbon; an axe with slender double-edge blade of flattened diamond section, on its hardwood haft of circular section rising to a block-shaped mount pierced with an arch and incised with small circles; another of the Ngombe tribe, with wide flat single-edged blade hooked at the point and with four blunt projections along the back, the surface on each side with incised line decoration, wooden grip bound with iron ribbon and wire, and integral pommel of two compressed circles surmounted by a faceted button; an axe (Silepe) with slender crescentic head incised with wrigglework and secured to the haft by the divided tang, on hardwood haft of slender circular section; a Congolese sword, the wide blade with waved double edge and rounded point, large ovoidal openwork forte, and incised line decoration overall, on brass-mounted wooden grip with large faceted pommel; and an Upper Congo (Songye) axe (Nzapa Zap), the characteristic iron blade with crescentic cutting-edge and formed of partly twist bars incised with human faces on each side, on waisted wooden haft entirely covered in copper secured by copper nails.

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Five African Edged Weapons

1) Masaai seme, 15 inch double edged blade, narrow leather-covered grip, russet leather-covered scabbard. 2) Another, massive example with slender 22 inch blade of diamond section broadening towards the point; ribbed leather-covered grip; russet leather-covered scabbard with leather suspension strap. 3) North African arm dagger; 7 inch double edged blade molded with fullers; tured wooden grip with wheel pommel; leather and reptile skin scabbard with plaited leather arm loop. 4) Another, broad 8 ½ inch blade of diamond section; leather-covered grip with iron ‘arrowhead’ pommel; black leather-covered scabbard missing the arm loop. 5) Large Salampasu knife; broad 14 inch blade with scalloped edges; stepped wooden grip; leather scabbard with plaited decoration.

British Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife

Made by Wilkinson Sword Ltd.

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British Bowie Knife, 19th Century

An exceptionally wide Victorian Bowie knife by R. Haydock of Sheffield, England. The clipped-point Bowie blade is 11 inches (28cm) long and 3 inches (7.5cm) at the widest point. The blade features an engraved motif of two hunting dogs pursuing a buffalo, which is labelled “FOR USE”. Large hilt, consisting of an S-shaped iron guard, antler grip scales, secured by rivets through the full width tang, and white metal ferrule and pommel plates. A blank white metal plaque is inset to one side of the grip. Total length 16 inches (40.5cm). 

Something Modern Sword & Knife Makers Get Wrong

Historical sword and knife makers spent hundreds of years perfecting their art, but often now we ignore their lessons. Here we look at one particular aspect of knife making that often gets ignored by modern makers.

Spoiler: it’s welding an iron tang to a steel blade via a scarf weld.