Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1854 Kabyle imseble
Subjectimseble tribal chief
Culture: Kabyle Berber
Setting: French wars, Kabylia/western Algeria mid/late 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)



* Stone 1934 p257-258
"Along the south shore of the Mediterranean the Kabyles used very long guns with short, deep stocks and very large snaphaan locks.  Three types of stock are used.  They differ considerably in shape but all are much decorated with ivory and bone inlays, and plates, straps and rosettes of silver and brass.  Guns have been made in this region from quite early times -- 'More words about guns.  They only make them in the cities in the interior of Sous.  The workmen are very numerous.  They also make gun-barrels, pistols, gun-locks, and all such things.  As for sabres and poinards, they are made by the Arab armorers.  They make powder in every province, but only in small quantities.'" [reference omitted]

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p289
"Kabyle gun  A conventional term for a gun of a particular form that was popular in North Africa, especially among the Kabyles -- a tribe of Berbers intermixed with Arabs in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.  A Kabyle gun was exceptionally long, 180 cm. (71 in.) or more, with a plain barrel linked to the stock by about twelve iron, brass, or silver bands.  When silver was used, it was often nielloed.  The stock and trumpet-shaped butt might be inlaid with ivory and silver plates."


​* Heggoy 1981 p128
"Men wear flowing robes, woolen burnoses [sic] and skull caps or chechias."

​* Racinet 1988 p56
"The Kabyle national costume is extremely simple, consisting of a a [SIC] cap, a woollen shirt called a derbal, which can be worn with or without a belt, and a leather apron. The outer-garment is a hooded cloak called a burnous."


* Stone 1934 p234-236
"FLYSSA.  The national sword of the Kabyles of Morocco.  It has a long, single-edged blade, straight on the back and with a very long point.  It is widest at about the center of percussion (roughly at a third of its length from the point) narrowing in an easy curve to about half its width, and then widening again to nearly its maximum at the hilt.  The blades are from twelve to thirty-nine inches long, and are frequently engraved and inlaid with brass.  The hilts are small with one-sided pommels and no guards.  The scabbards are of wood elaborately carved and have two sling hoops carved from the solid."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p185
"flissa (or flyssa)  An Algerian sword related to the yatagan and resembling the shashka, it probably developed in the early 19th century.  However, its history was considerably older as similar weapons had been made in Kabyle villages for generations, especially by the Iflisen tribe, from whom the name derived.  Emir Abd-el-Kader (1807-1883) possessed several examples in his armory, and in 1827 King Ferdinand VII of Spain, through his envoy in Algeria, was presented with a flissa.
    "This sword has a single-edged blade, quite straight on the back, with a long point.  The cutting edge has a double curve, like a yatagan, the widest part of the blade being at about the central point of percussion, roughly at one-third of its length from the point, narrowing above at the hilt.  The average blade is almost 100 cm. (39 in.) long, frequently engraved and inlaid with brass in simple geometrical designs of triangles, semicircles, and scrolls.  The hilt is small with a one-sided pommel, without guards, and formed in the shape of a bird's head.  The lower part of the hilt is made of steel, together with the blade and tang, but its upper part -- around the tang -- is of wood and covered with ornamented brass or copper.  The cross section of the grip is octagonal, and the pommel is fixed by a transverse rivet, the ends of which look like bird's eyes.  A conical knob on the top is engraved in crescent-shaped designs.
    "The scabbard, made in two halves from carved wood, is joined together by several rings of copper or iron -- usually six, seven, or eight -- with a chape at the end.  Sometimes these rings are of plaited thongs or tendons instead of metal.  The surface is carved in geometric motifs, and there are two sling hoops on the outside of its upper part which are carved in one with the scabbard.
    "The entire decoration of the flissa resembles the designs of Kabyle rugs and Berber ceramics and jewelry, which are probably symbols of clans and tribes.  The signs worked into the blade are of special interest because these conceal disguised symbolic meanings."

* Richardson 2015 p69
"The Kabyle Berbers of northern Algeria have a characteristic sword called a flyssa, which has a straight, single-edged blade which swells at the centre then narrows to a long point, and which is fitted with a guardless hilt with a pommel in the form of a stylised camel head, usually of brass."

* Burton 1884 p163-164
"[T]he Flissa of Northern Africa, the Yataghan whose type, by the support of the Duc d'Aumale, supplied France for years with a bad bayonet, if borrowed from the Lisán, has assumed a peculiar curve.  Colonel A. Lane-Fox looks upon this Flissa of the Kabyles (=Kabáil, the tribes) as resembling the 'Kopis-blade straightened, like those represented in the hands of the Greek warrior on the vase in the Museum at Naples.'  Nothing can be better adapted for close fight than the handy stabbing weapon ...."


* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p185
"Flissas of smaller size can also be found, with a blade about 30 cm. (12 in.) long.  The blade of this weapon, which is actually a dagger, curves slightly at the point, and the hilt -- usually covered with brass or copper -- is simpler than on the sword, while the pommel always retains the bird shape."

​* Fryer 1969 p86
"Flyssa  A Moroccan [SIC] sword or knife.  The blade is single-edged and has a slender point.  The guardless hilt is usually mounted with engraved brass, the wooden grips sometimes inlaid with brass and horn.  The scabbards are of carved wood."

​* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Flissa (1884.24.121)
"... [The] flissa or flyssa is the distinctive weapon of the Kabyle Berber people of Algeria. Since they vary in length they are sometimes classed as swords, sometimes as knives. Unlike many North African swords which are fitted with European blades, the flissa blade is without exception of local manufacture.
    "Such weapons were used to break open chain mail, which was still worn in this part of the world until the 19th century. The blade is single-edged for cutting but also has a tapering point for stabbing. This typical example has an octagonal grip, animal head pommel and decoratively incised blade.
    "... The unusual concave section along the flissa's cutting edge has drawn much attention from art historians. Some have argued that this shape shows the particular ancestry of the flissa, which they believe copies the shape of concave-bladed Ancient Greek swords called machaira, such as those used by the armies of Alexander the Great. It doesn't seem impossible that this form of sword could have been brought to Algeria by the Carthaginians, who were themselves of Phoenician origin. In saying this, it should also be noted that the flissa hilt is similar to that of Arabian-Persian-Indian shamshir swords so it is not beyond doubt that it had it's origins further east.
    "As well as the blade shape, the species of animal depicted on the flissa hilts has also created much academic speculation. Some scholars have argued that the species of the animal is unimportant; what is important is that their eyes are always exaggerated in size. Both the animal-headed pommel and the brass-inlaid geometric decoration on the hilt and blade, have magical power. All of the decoration on the sword serves to protect the wielder against the Evil Eye.
    "The Evil Eye is a major concern for Berber and Islamic North Africans alike. It is believed that the first jealous glance of another person, cast on someone or their possessions, is dangerous to them and will bring them misfortune. Such decoration is applied to many manufactured objects in the region. The general idea behind such decoration is to depict something repulsive, pointed, or an eye or hand, with which one can repel, pierce or deflect the Evil Eye. For example, the individual triangular motifs on the back of this sword's blade represent clothes pins (fibulae), which are understood to pierce the Evil Eye, while the zigzag line motifs represent a snake, which then drives it away. The glare from one eye is believed to repel that of another so the animal-headed pommel has been cast here with large eyes."