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Takouba Sword: The African Sub-Saharan Knightly Blade

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: May 1, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

Swords coming out from the African continent are known for their unorthodox looks and terrifying blades that are unlike any other type of bladed-edged weapons. Some African swords are very familiar and were used during the same time frame as those used by European knights.  

The African sub-saharan blade that resembles the European arming sword is called the Takouba. This article will cover everything you need to know about this fascinating blade. We will start with its traits and characteristics and describe how it can best be used. Then we will cover the legends surrounding the Takouba and its history.

Types of Takouba Swords

Types of Takuoba Sword
The many different shapes that the Takouba sword can be in – Credits: The Takouba Form

The Takouba sword is seen as an individual sword by some, but by others as a form of a sword that can take many different shapes used throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Here are some of the most popular forms and diverse Takouba swords.

  1. Hausa (or Nupe)
  2. Nupe
  3. Lobi
  4. Tuareg
  5. Mandinka
  6. Fulani
  7. Bornu
  8. Mossi

The most common name and shape for the Takouba sword is the Tuareg, but it is far more than just this form. The Takouba blades were quite different based on various regions, no doubt propagated by the trans-Saharan trade spanning western and central Sahel regions, where the sword was mostly used.

Although they share some traits and characteristics, mostly in the shape of the blade and guard, each of these swords has a distinctive background and was used throughout different regions of Africa.

Characteristics of the Takouba Sword

Takuoba Sword with details
The African Takouba Sword with Details – Credits: Virtual Museums of Małopolska

The Takouba is a cruciform-style sword often mistaken for a European sword because of its appearance. Despite that, it has some characteristics that are very different than European bladed-edged weapons, the strongest being the large and very broad crossguard.

Blade

The straight and double edged blades of Takuoba
The straight and double-edged blades with rounded points of the Takouba – Credits: Dawson Aucteneers

The blade of the Takouba African sword is straight and double-edged, meaning sharpened on both sides to be used for slashing. The blade tapers from the guard to a rounded but sharpened point at the end. The most usual blade length for a Takouba sword is 29 to 33 inches (74 to 84 cm).

Takouba swords feature blade fullers, the opening lines in the blade’s center. They aren’t made for aesthetic reasons alone but serve a couple of purposes, mainly to lighten the sword’s weight. Typically, most Takoubas have three blade fullers, with the center one being the longest. However, some have five or one, which is very wide and in the center.

The first part of the blade is usually unsharpened, forming a ricasso the length of 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) from the guard. Being a sword linked with the nobility, this ricasso can be ornamented and decorated.

Guard

Guard of Takuoba Sword
The guard of the Takouba Sword, which is rectangular and very wide – Credits: Iain

The strongest and most visual characteristic of the Takouba is its crossguard. Usually, the guard of the Takouba is rectangular and made to be very wide, serving as good protection for the user’s hand. But it is believed that it’s built in this manner so that the user won’t touch the metal or steel of the blade.

The Takouba’s guard can vary in shape and size, as seen on many different swords, but the most common crossguard length is 4.3 to 5.5 inches (11 to 14 cm), while the width of it is around 1.5 inches (4 cm).

Because of the aversion among the users of the Takouba and its metal, which will be discussed below, the metal guard is always covered with tooled leather or sheathed in brass or silver. The guard can also be decorated with various patterns and precious metals based on personal preference.

Handle

Handles of Takuoba Sword
The various types of Takouba handles, guards, and pommels seen on the Takouba swords – Credits: The Takouba Form

Takouba swords are one-handed, with the handle sized to fit exactly one hand. It is protected by the large guard on one end with the oval or hourglass pommel on the other. The most usual handle length for the Takouba sword is around 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).

From various findings, historical pictures, and archeology, the Takouba hilts can be separated into two groups. 

  • Southern – a very wide guard covered in brass with a thick upper rounded pommel
  • Central – a leather-covered guard with a flat pommel and a pointy pyramidal tip made out of brass and copper

This one-handed handle is also covered in leather, sometimes starting from the guard and ending at the pommel. In some cases, the handle can be sheathed and covered with silver or decorative metal plates made out of brass if the sword is for ceremonial purposes and linked with the nobility.

Pommel

Pommel of Takuoba Sword
The big and oval pommel of the Takouba sword – Credits: Iain

The pommel is the metal piece at the very begging of the handle, acting as a tool for bashing and a counterweight for the blade’s balance. The pommel is always metal on the Takouba sword and can be in an hourglass, large and oval, or sometimes a pointy pyramidal shape with stacks of metal plates around it.

The pommel holds the full-tang blade together in place, a small piece of metal extending from the blade to the pommel and through the handle for better stability and strength. Sometimes the pommel can feature a small metal stick coming out of it.

Scabbard

Scabbard of Takuoba Sword
The types of different scabbards that are used to hold the Takouba Sword – Credits: Victorian Swords

The scabbard is where the Takouba blades get to stay while the sword is not in use. Its purpose is to make sword carrying easier and protect it from rain or corrosion. This scabbard or sheath is mostly leather and is as long as the blade.

The Takouba scabbards usually have an embossed African pattern; on some, there are rare and precious pearls, especially if the sword is ceremonial or linked with the nobility. The upper part of the scabbard is made of metal, and in the center, there are two loops made out of leather and a bandolier from thick linen that wraps around the person carrying it.

Traditionally, the Takouba in its scabbard was carried on the waist. Still, in African cases, the bandolier was used to tie the sword around the wielder’s body and lifted above the left side of the waist. This made it easier to unsheathe the sword when using the large Ayar shield.

Weight

Despite its large guard, the Takouba are light weapons despite looking like heavier-than-usual swords. The most common weight for Takouba swords from the past is around two lbs (0.9 kg). Combined with the shorter length, it makes the Takouba a quick-wielding blade.

Size & Length

African Takouba swords are one-handed, as they aren’t terribly long. The most usual length for the Takouba sword is 31 to 39 inches (80 to 100 cm). This allows it to be used with a shield or on horseback with quick and efficient strikes.

Uses for the Takouba Sword

Testing the Takouba’s lethality, might, speed, and power – Credits: Forged in Fire

The Takouba sword is a one-handed weapon because of its small handle size and large hilt fittings, such as the guard and pommel. It is primarily used for cutting and slashing strikes because its rounded tip wouldn’t make it an ideal piercing or thrusting weapon. This type of rounded tip is preferred for slicing without shredding or tearing something.

The large guard might affect the overall versatility and movement of the sword, but there are ways to overcome this, such as the pistol grip. This way, a finger is placed over the guard and on top of the ricasso.

Warfare and Combat

The biggest known use of the Takouba sword in African history is warfare. It was a sword seen on most of the nobility of the Sahel region spanning various cultures and tribes. Takoubas were made of steel and were deadly when combined with a shield or placed on a mounted unit.

The movement is the biggest and most important thing about using the Takouba swords in the past. Jumping around with fast footwork was key primarily because, at times, heavy armor was not being carried by the units wielding the Takouba due to the very high temperatures of the sub-Saharan.

Ceremonial

Noble Tuareg warrior of Agadez Niger
Noble Tuareg warrior of Agadez, Niger, wielding the Takouba sword at his side – Credits: Alamy

Being a type of metal created and surrounded by various legends made the Takouba one of the most prized possessions in Sub-Saharan Africa. This led to its use in ceremonial rituals such as early African sword dancing, wedding ceremonies, gifting, binding African tribes together, decorating the sword with precious metals, and giving orders from the throne.

Weapon of Rank

The Takouba sword is almost always linked with the high nobility. Today there is a lot of discussion about whether various African vassals and nobles would have used this sword or just the Ihagaren, the Tuareg warrior aristocratic class.

Most likely, the Takouba blade would have been used by various rich tradesmen from the vast number of African tribes in the Sahel region. With that being said, it was not easy to come by, and only those of rank and power would have it in their possession unless it was taken by force.

Trade Currency

Modern day use of the Takouba sword
Modern-day use of the Takouba sword in the African Mossi tribe as a ceremonial  weapon of high rank – Credits: The Takouba Form

The Sahel region in Africa spans from the west to the east, where trade between north and sub-Saharan Arica took place. Takouba blades were finely designed and would get passed along this trade route and sold to Europe and the Middle East. It was a popular trade currency used to buy things from other tribes or kingdoms.

African Sword Dancing

Dancing is a traditional part of Africa, whether for rain, better harvest, better hunt, or the good luck and prosperity that might come after a certain war. This made the Takouba sword a very popular blade still in use in African sword dancing today, such as the Tuareg and Hausa sword dancing which is based on traditional fighting style.

HAMA – Historical African Martial Arts

The HAMA (historical African martial arts) preserves and continues the sword training and swordplay from African history and is the leading organization in charge of doing so. Takouba swordplay is one of the most popular styles of African fighting.

Takouba is a popular sword to try in HAMA. Thanks to its familiar and unique design, it offers both new and traditional sword sparring and training techniques. 

The Takouba is also a great beginner-friendly sword to try if one is interested in African swordsmanship.

History of the Takouba Sword

African heavy cavalry warriors
African heavy cavalry warriors mounted up and ready to use the Takouba for slashing – Credits: Wiki Media

Takouba is an African sword used primarily in the Sahel region of Africa during the Middle Ages and spanning to the late 19th century. The Sahel is home to many different African tribes that influenced the Takouba types of blades. The Tuareg, Hausa, Nupe, Kanuri, Fulani, Songhai, Manding, Mossi, Lobi, Mudang, Daba, Vere, and Chamba people also used the blade.

The origins of the Takouba sword date back to the 14th century and is of Italian or German manufacturing. However, upon studying this same blade, experts have concluded that this sword, and swords of the same type, could have been made a couple of centuries earlier.

The oldest found Takouba Sword
The oldest found Takouba Sword dates back to the 14th century with European symbol and bladesmithing techniques – Credits: The Takouba Form

Most likely, the Takouba sword is either authentic or with Arabic origins, while the European crafting commonly seen in the Trans-Saharan trade could have influenced its design. This sword was the link between Europe and the Middle East during trade from Mediterranean ports to the Red Sea. The weapon was likely carried by highwaymen as a form of protection.

Part of the Sahel region of Africa
The most active Takouba sword part of the Sahel region of Africa – Credits: Takouba

The legends of the formation and crafting of the Takouba come from the region of the Tuareg tribe. The tribe fell under Islamic rule but kept some of its practices and beliefs.

Smiths known as Inedenn, who were forbidden to intermarry with the Tuareg and had a  mysterious and secret language called Tenet, were crafting these beautiful and powerful blades. The Tuareg and their traditional gods had an aversion to metal and steel and believed the blade had magical powers. The big guard of the Takouba kept one’s hand from coming in contact with it.

Sources Cited
  1. Norman. (2013, December). The Takouba Form.
  2. Bastide, T. A. (2019, December 31). Traditional Weapons of Africa (Billhooks Sickles and Scythes): A Regional Approach and Technical, Morphological, and Aesthetic Classification.
  3. African Weapons: Sling, Bow, Sjambok, Assegai, Knobkierrie, Rungu, Hunga Munga, Nzappa Zap, Kaskara, Seme. (2010, May 1).
  4. Shillington, K. (1995, June 1). History of Africa.
  5. Alkazemi, M. F., & Youakim, C. E. (Eds.). (2021, June 17). Arab Worlds Beyond the Middle East and North Africa.
  6. Spring, C. (2003, February 1). African Arms and Armour.
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