Subject: sofa warrior
Culture: Mande / Mandingo
Setting: Mandingo empire, Mali / upper Niger late 19thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Porch 2000 p143-145
"In 1851 Samori [Toure, a merchant from the upper Niger basin] deserted his trade and for the next twenty years lived as a war chief in the service of several African leaders. In the 1870s, he struck out on his own, to create an empire that stretched from the right bank of the Niger, south to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Islam gave Samori's empire a veneer of ideological unity. But the real solidity of Samori's dominion resided in his formidable military organization. His territories were divided into ten provinces, eight of which raised an army corps of 4-5,000 professional sofas or warriors, supplemented by agricultural work the other six months. [...]
"Samori managed to unify an empire that survived for almost two decades against repeated French advances. [...] After a particularly bloody skirmish with Samori's sofas in the Diamanko marshes in January 1892, Colonel Gustave Humbert conceded that Samori's troops 'fight exactly like Europeans, with less discipline perhaps, but with much greater determination.'"
* Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art > Weapons and Warriors: The Art of Armaments
"... Sofas were recruited from 'jonow' (slaves) captured in battle or bought from afar. They could be depended on in most instances for obedience, since their livelihood depended entirely on their master. The institution of slavery in the Mali Empire heavily rewarded loyalty, and jonow could rise to civil or military positions of prominence. Jonow became part of their master's clan, and were often freed after a certain amount of years. As part of the clan, jonow were expected to accompany their masters into battle and handle his horse and weapons."
* Vandervort 1998 p 131-132
"On campaign, the sofas wore great conical straw hats, not unlike those worn by the peasants of East Asia; rust-colored trousers and tunics, the latter covered with good-luck charms; and leather sandals."
* Frank 1998 p58
"Large round or conical buttons are ... a feature of a particular style of sandal (sabara) common throughout the Mande region. Mande-style sandals are small and peanut-shaped, coming to a slight point at the tip of the toe and heel. The sole is often as much as an inch thick, usually made of several layers of cow or oxen hide. Only the top layer is of sheep or goat skin, decorated with fine painted and impressed lines and occasionally with stamped designs. A row of stitching around the edge attaches the top layer to the rest of the sole and secures the straps on either side. The straps may be plain, drawn with delicate black designs, or impressed with fine lines.
* Frank 1998 p66
"The wide range of powder flasks and horns (marifamugu binyènw) found in Morocco is not paralleled in West Africa. The most common in the Mande area are of cow horn and wood partially covered with leather. The small end provides the opening, while the larger end is usually closed with a pointed tip or sometimes a bulbous form carved from wood. The surface of the horn is visible between sections of leather, encircled with ridges, like the sword sheaths ..., that provide a means of attaching a carrying strap. The decoration is usually palm-fiber embroidery or incised and peeled patterns, or both. Those with a bulbous end are usually painted with designs. The most elaborate examples also have bundles of fringe and (amulet?) tassels."
* Frank 1998 p66
"Although they figure prominently in Arab and European descriptions, quivers are not nearly as well represented in museum collections as are swords. The most consistent feature of Mande quivers is a series of molded ridges that encircle the shaft. More elaborate examples have designs between the ridges and long fringe attached to the bottom and along the side or at the point where the cap is secured. A nineteenth-century illustration of one identified as having belonged to a Bamana (Bambarra) chief has what appear to be round buttons with designs that may be palm-fiber embroidery, a typical feature of Mande leatherwork."
* Spring 1993 p40
"Among the Manding and related peoples of the western Sudan the most prestigious swords, owned only by men of some standing, have a slightly curved single-edged blade, often of French manufacture, set in a hilt without hand guard or quillons. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of these swords is their scabbards of exquisitely decorated leather broadening into a leaf-shaped point and further embellished with tassles and large, round buttons of plaited leather."
* Feest 1980 p57 f64
"The single-edged Mandingo sword from Mali has both its hilt and scabbard encased in leather decorated with ornamental incisions."
* Frank 1998 p63
A distinctive Mande style of sword sheath (npanmurutan) ... is well represented in museum collections. This style follows a straight or often slightly curved blade, accentuated toward the pointed tip by a widening of the sheath into a leaf shape. This flat area provides a surface for painting as well as impressed and stamped designs and occasionally embroidery. The central portion of the sheath is divided into sections by a series of raised molded ridges encircling the sheath and marking off separate sections. These ridges act visually as frames for decorative patterns, sometimes painted designs, sometimes embroidery with palm fibers. Four large buttons (two on either side) are attached to the cords that provide loops for the shoulder strap. These buttons are sometimes plain, but are more often embroidered with palm fiber. From these buttons hang one or two wide panels decorated with incised and peeled designs and a bundle of fringe. On some examples, a tassel of fringe is suspended in the center."
* Frank 1998 p58-63
"Short knives or daggers (muruw) probably have been a common feature of the dress of Mande men, especially hunters and warriors, for centuries. It is still common today to see men in the countryside wearing knives attached to their belts, and knife sheaths (murutamw) are one of the items most frequently commissioned from contemporary leatherworkers.
"There are several styles of knife sheaths usually identified in museum collections as Mande. In one of these styles, the sheath ends in a cylindrical knob, approximately the same diameter as the rim where the handle meets the sheath. The sheath is decorated with molded, impressed, and stamped designs and may employ different colors of leather or skin with the hairs still attached. The handle of the knife is also covered with leather. In addition, the sheath often has small buttons and loops to which are attached a carrying cord or bundle of cords similar to those on the long, cylindrical pouches described above. Another style has a tapered sheath decorated with molded, impressed, and stamped designs, and ends in either a small, rounded knob or a bundle of fringe. This style is often embroidered with palm fibers."