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Ada Sword: The Blade of the Powerful Benin Kingdom

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: May 22, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Ada Sword, sometimes called the Omozo or Omozu based on regional language differences, is a popular African Sword characterized by a lengthy and distended blade. It was both an effective battle weapon and a ceremonial tool used by the mighty Benin Kingdom of Western Africa.

Most of the Ada Swords we have today retained from European military expansions during the late 19th century, and they are one of the most expensive African blades today. This article will give you a complete overview of the Ada, and you can discover what makes it unique and how it was used. We will also dive into the history of the Ada and explain the differences between other African and Benin swords.

Characteristics of the Ada Sword

Ada Sword with Details
The African Ada Sword with Details – Credits: Lempertz

Ada African Swords are easily recognizable thanks to their curved and broad blade shapes. This design is fairly common on some ceremonial African Swords, but in the case of the Ada, it is a sharpened blade commonly used in battle. It resembles and functions like a Machete or a European Falchion sword.


Ada Sword Blade
The swollen and curved blade of the ceremonial Ada Sword – Credits: Nicolas Danial

The African Ada or Omozu blade is curved and single-edged, meaning sharpened on one side. It is made of iron, copper, and sometimes steel, although rare. The curve is gradual at the neck’s blade, but at the end, it strongly curves to a broader shape. The end of this blade can be made in different ways, depending on whether it is used for ceremony or battle.

Common traits of Ada’s blade are the different symbols like the cross, holes, or animal shapes. These can have different meanings, but most have spiritual backgrounds connected to the Vodun (later known as Voodoo) African religion. Some of them can be connected to Christianity, as the cross symbol can be found in some African regions with a meaning of the connection between the spiritual and material world.

The most common type of Ada blade that could be used for combat is the distended blade tip with two sharp edges on each side. The beginning of the blade has a ricasso, or unsharpened part, which can be held with another hand to use as a two-handed weapon or as a way to hook enemy shields. The average Ada blade length is 16 to 31 inches (40 to 80 cm).


A type of Ada or Benin Sword
A type of Benin or Ada Sword used for combat – Credits: International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

Guards are the metal pieces on top of the handle that protects the wielder’s hand. Ada Swords feature a disc-shaped guard usually made of iron, brass, or copper and provide substantial protection. Some ceremonial Ada blades, however, do not have a guard.

Some people can see the blade ridge after the ricasso, or the unsharpened part of the blade, as a secondary guard, similar to the German Zweihander sword


Ada Sword Handle
Some Ada swords feature a pommel  well protected by a disc-shaped guard and pommel – Credits: Lempertz

The handle of the Ada Sword is straight and open. Usually, it has ribs that will grant the user a sturdier grip. The handle can also have a widening single mid-rib. The handle length is one-handed, around four to six inches (10 to 15 cm). It is made of wood and typically covered with copper or brass wire.

Some Ada Swords were carried purely for prestige and decorative purposes, and they were also part of sacrificial and ceremonial events featuring different heavily ornamented handles. These can be in the shape of a human head or an African deity like Ogun or Vodun.


Ceremonial Ada Sword
A ceremonial type of Ada Sword with a very decorative and unfunctional pommel – Credits: Yoruba History

Ada Swords feature a functional pommel, a metal cap piece on the lower end of the handle meant to hold the full-tang blade in place. It acts as a counterweight to the broad blade tip, creating balance and making the sword easier and more stable. 

Sometimes the pommel can be highly decorative, like a human head, with aesthetic purposes. But in most cases,  a long, pointy, or rounded pommel could feature a tassel or rope tied to the handle for a stronger grip.


A functional and battle ready Ada Sword
An Ada Sword that could be effective and used in battle – Credits: British Museum

The African Ada Sword is a fairly heavy weapon due to its massive blade and shape. It is made to be heavier to be an effective chopping tool against shields and armor, and it was also a highly capable slashing weapon offering flawless executions. The usual weight of the Ada Sword is around 2.8 lbs  (1.3 kg), but this can vary depending on the sword’s length.

Size and Length

The length and size of an Ada Sword can vary greatly depending on what uses the blade was created for. If it were a combat type of weapon, it would be significantly shorter and carried with one hand while holding a shield in the other. If used for executions and ceremonies, it would be double the size. The most common length for the Ada Sword is between 15 to 59 inches (40 to 150 cm).

Uses of the Ada Sword

Ada Sword Uses
An Omo sword bear holding the ceremonial and battle-ready Ada sword – Credits: Mentor Poce

The Ada or Umozo Sword is a one-handed weapon. It is a cleaving tool thanks to its massive blade, primarily used for chopping and slashing attacks, similar to a Chinese Dadao Sword.  It is a sword designed to be effective against armored and unarmored opponents.

Warfare and Combat

Ada Sword Warfare
A Benin Warrior wielding a ceremonial and a warfare Ada type of blade in his hands – Credits: Men of Color Fantasy Arts

One of the main purposes of the Ada Sword was believed to have been warfare. It is a weapon used by the Benin Kingdom, renowned and highly respected for centuries. A terrifying-looking weapon like the Ada or Omozo was a successful intimidation tool against others. The Ada was also effective in battle against the large leather shields used by enemies.

Prestige and Rank

Ada Sword Prestige and Rank
The value and big meaning that the Ada Sword to the Edo or Benin people today – Credits: Africa Uima Uiowa

The Benin warriors’ main sword would have been the Opia, a straight, double-edged leaf-shaped blade similar to the Xiphos. Only the most renowned warriors would carry the Ada or Omozo into battle to signify their prestigious rank. Members of nobility and the king’s bodyguards, called Omada, would have large and frightening Ada Swords.

Ceremonies and Executions

Ada Sword Ceremonies
The Ada is one of the ceremonial weapons used for many events – Credits: Ben Enwonwu

Human sacrifice was a significant part of the Benin culture. Many people and slaves were chosen and sacrificed using large ceremonial weapons. The Ada was used as a sacrificial instrument because of its size. It excelled as an executioner’s sword because if the execution weren’t successful in one strike, the executioner would be punished.

Its cleaver-like blade became the most sought-after weapon because of the substantial amount of blood the victim would lose, causing them to bleed to death. Some early explorers of Benin have reported that the human sacrifice ceremonies would sometimes reach close to 4000 victims per day, which could be exaggerated.

History of the Ada Sword

Ada Sword History
One of the “Benin Bronzez” showing the Ada or Omozo sword – Credits: British Museum

The Ada Sword is an African blade used primarily by the Edo people in the historical African Kingdom of Benin, previously known as Dahomey, in modern Nigeria. The biggest discovery of the blade was after the Colonial Era when it was used extensively from the 17th through the 19th century. However, the origins of the Ada may be earlier.

The Ada may be the same sword as the Omozo, a slightly longer and less decorated blade with different terms based on regional language differences. Still, the Ada was a popular sword along with other Benin blades like Opia and Eben. The Eben was an earlier ceremonial weapon carried by the  Oba, or King, who worshipped the ancestors in his traditional dance.

Eben Sword
The Ada and the Eben, which are ceremonial swords of the Edo, Benin people – Credits: Steemit

The Ada could have emerged as a sword out of the concept of the Eben blade but as a single-edged version that could be effective for combat. Another theory is that the Ada originated as a gradual length increase of the Loop Dagger used by the neighboring Yoruba people for dealing with the immense pressure of their large bows. The Yoruba people had a bowstring that they were keen on using.

The Ada was used by nobles, warriors, and the brave Omada, known as the sword bearers. Today, it is still a very popular blade seen at many traditional events in the Republic of Benin. It is not used in war or as a sacrifice but is still a sword rooted in their highly valued and respected culture.

Sources Cited
  1. Adoga, J. (2020, April 24). The Great Benin Empire.
  2. Falola, T., & Heaton, M. M. (2008, April 24). A History of Nigeria.
  3. Bastide, T. A. (2019, December 31). Traditional Weapons of Africa (Billhooks Sickles and Scythes): A Regional Approach and Technical, Morphological, and Aesthetic Classification.
  4. Spring, C. (2003, February 1). African Arms and Armour.
  5. African Weapons: Sling, Bow, Sjambok, Assegai, Knobkierrie, Rungu, Hunga Munga, Nzappa Zap, Kaskara, Seme. (2010, May 1).
  6. Shillington, K. (1995, June 1). History of Africa.
  7. Anthony C. Tirri (2007). Islamic and Native Weapons of Colonial Africa, 1800-1960. Indigo Pub.
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