This sword is particularly rare because of the quality of its leather bindings and decoration, and their exceptional condition. We are not aware of another that is quite as elaborately decorated and in such a fine condition.
Mandingo swords use a variety of blades but the example here is a locally hand-forged layered steel blade. The scabbard is encased entirely in finely tooled and dyed leather. A mid-section is covered in red silk but this is loose and seems not integral to the sword and its fittings.
The leather fittings include large woven and plaited elements, plaited leather tassels, and a leather shoulder straps decorated with six decorative and large ‘buttons’ covered in finely woven leather strips.
The hilt ends with a rounded brass finial.
Related (though lesser) examples are illustrated in Tirri (2007, p. 561). The example here is almost complete – only one small tassel is deficient.
The Mandingo people of Sierra Leone and West Africa more broadly (also known as the Mandinka or Malinke) and a largely Sunni Muslim group who migrated to Sierra Leone from the 1870s from Guinea. Traditionally, they are traders and farmers. Many went to Sierra Leone to follow the conservative, hardline Muslim Mandingo cleric and military strategist, Samore Ture who founded the local Wassoulou ‘Empire’. Under Ture’s rule, the Mandingo enslaved many tribespeople from neighbouring groups as well as capturing and occupying even more lands in Sierra Leone. The militaristic activities of the Mandingo ensured a culture of weapons making such as the sword here, which though highly decorative also contains a well-forged and strong blade.
Tirri, A.C., Islamic and Native Weapons of Colonial Africa 1800-1960, Indigo Publishing, 2007.