Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1885 Mahdist nasir

Subject: ناصر nāṣir 'helper' cavalry
Culture: Sudanese
Setting: Mahdist states, Sudan 1880s-1910s

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

* Knight/Scollins 1989 p33
"The British called the Mahdi's followers Dervishes, a corruption of the Persian word darvish, which meant originally a beggar.  The Mahdi himself, however, followed the example of the Prophet and called his supporters Ansar, meaning 'helpers'.  Because the movement was a religious rather than a tribal one, it strove to overcome regional differences, although the tension between central authority and leadership in the distant provinces is one of the themes of Mahdist history.  The first Ansar were peasants, and the Mahdi, a pious ascetic, advocated virtuous poverty as a counter to worldly sin."


* Elgood 2004 p248
"Jibbāh (Arabic)  Arab quilted coat used as armour.  Note the white robe with black and coloured patches worn by the followers of the Māhdī in the Sudan in the late nineteeth century.  These are sometimes transliterated as jibbeh.  They were believed by the Māhdī's followers to provide divine protection against bullets and injury."

* Bennett 1998 p168
"jibbah  Sudanese term for a quilted coat, sometimes worn with mail armour over the top or underneath. It is derived from an old Arabic word which may originally have referred to quilted armour but later came to mean armour in general."

* Knight/Scollins 1989 p34-36
"As the Mahdiyya became more established, so its uniforms became regularised. Early converts made their own jibbehs, and sewed the patches on themselves.  By the 1890s factories making jibbehs had been set up at Omdurman and in the provincial capitals.  Designs became more standard.  New victories, which brought an influx of prisoners to join the ranks of the Ansar, stimulated mass production, and there may have been period issues of new clothing to the main army at Omdurman.  It is doubtful if particular tribes wore uniform jibbehs, but under these circumstances it is possible that certain patterns were repeated in some areas.
    "A standard jibbeh of the late 1880s and 1890s was symmetrical, with the same patches on the front and back.  There were two or three large rectangular patches on the body and skirt, with one or occasionally two patches on the top of the sleeves, and a patch on either side.  The neck opening usually had a triangular patch pointing down the torso.  Contemporary British sources suggested that the Ja'aliyin tribe wore jibbehs with blue patches, and the western Baqqara red and black patches; but these were the most popular colours and, although these may have been factory colours, it is unlikely that they were issued on a strict tribal basis.  Other colours were also common, notably olive green, khaki and yellow.  Clothing from captured Egyptian uniforms was often cut up to make patches.  Although the majority of the Ansar probably had very simple jibbehs, surviving examples reveal a surpising sophistication of pattern.  Neck openings and hems were often edged with coloured strips and the patches themselves decorated with contrasting or complementary borders.  Dark blue patches might be edged in light blue, red in black, or khaki in green.  Small dark strips were often stitched under the arms, and narrow pointed bands ran vertically up from the bottom hem.  Some patches were striped.
    "Mahdist commanders, amirs, seem to have worn no badges of rank as such, though their importance was reflected in the quality of their jibbehs.  Amirs' jibbehs reveal the full potential of the different combinations and colours of patches.  They may also have been distinguished by two particular designs: an ornately embroidered breastpocket, usually on the lefthand side, and large 'spade' patterns in dark colours, often black, probably edged in a contrasting colour, and sometimes covered in gold or silver thread.  Among the most senior Mahdist commanders, however, it seems to have been the fashion to wear unostentatious jibbehs, to emphasise their piety rather than flaunt their position The Khalifa himself is said to have worn a plain white jibbeh, and one exists which was taken from either his body, or that of one of his highest ranking generals, after Umm Diwaykarat: it has a simple pattern of light and dark brown patches, edged in blue and grey."


* Withers 2008 p87
"The kaskara  This sword is readily identified with the Sudan.  Blades are double-edged, with a spatulate, or spoon-shaped, tip and a blade length of around 95cm (37.4in).  A broad central fuller, or 'blood groove', is found on some examples, with others exhibiting multiple fullers.  Interestingly, many blades are heavily stamped with spurious European swordsmith marks.  Imported European blades were attached to kaskara blades from the 17th and 18th centuries, but most examples still surviving date from the 19th century and these marks were actually added by local sword makers to increase the perceived value and quality of a blade.
     "The cross guard is usually composed of forged iron although brass examples are also known.  It also exhibits a long and thin langet (an extension of the guard).  Pommels are of flat, disc form, and the grip is round and normally bound in leather."

* Fryer 1969 p86
"Kaskara  A North African Arab sword with cruciform hilt.  The straight double-edged blade is often European in form."

* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p142 (Anthony North, "Swords of Islam" p136-147)
"The kaskara of Sudan is a remarkable survival of a medieval Arab weapon.  It has the hilt and blade of the straight-bladed broadswords used in the late medieval period, the only significant difference being that the pommel is a circular disc.  The majority of kaskaras date from the nineteenth century, although some are mounted with heirloom blades."  

* Knight/Scollins 1989 p38
"The sword was straight, with a simple cross-guard, and worn in a red leather scabbard over the left shoulder."

* North 1985 p30
"The Arab [sword] version survived in its straight form in North Africa and the Sudan until this century in the form of the Sudanese sword known as a 'Kaskara'.  The straight quillons and blade differ only slightly from their 13th- and 14th-century Arab forebears.  Most of the straight blades were imported, but there are examples of locally made blades, found with these hilts."

* Bull 1991 p190
"Perhaps the best-known of all Sudanese arms is the kaskara -- a long sword with a simple cross hilt which at first glance look [SIC] like medieval European work.  Often the blades were imported from either Europe or Arabia, and they are carried in a traditional leather scabbard with a large coffin- or lozenge-shaped chape or end."

* Royal Armouries Museum > Oriental Gallery
"The characteristic sword of the eastern Sahara and the Sudan is the kaskara.  It has a straight, usually double-edged blade, and the hilt has an iron cross guard with slightly flaring langets above and below.  The similarity between this and the medieval European sword leads to constant confusion.  Many of the blades were imported into Africa along trade routes from Spain or Germany.  The European marks they bear, commonly the crescent moon and sun or the orb and cross, add to the confusion."


* Knight/Scollins 1989 p38
"Daggers were sometimes worn strapped to the left arm under the jibbeh."