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Mervyn Mitton

FLY WHISK - EGYPTIAN BADGE OF OFFICE

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I bought this fly whisk - years ago - in the Bazaar in Cairo. I have no reason not to believe that it was part of the regalia for a Sirdar - a rank in the Egyptian Army roughly equivalent to a major. This would have been in the Victorian period - poss. 1870's -80's when we were involved in Egypt. If any member has different info. I would be pleased to hear ? The shaft is ivory and the hair would have been bleached donkey tail.

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Hello Mervyn - where do you keep all this stuff ! ?

What is the story behind it being military, or rather, what makes it a military item as opposed to just a common fly whisk? And, was it common practise to get a fly whisk when you got promoted to "Sidar" ?

regards,

Thomas

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"I have no reason not to believe that it was part of the regalia for a Sirdar"

A really lovely piece indeed but, at the risk of sounding like a smart a**, I have to echo Thomas: what evidence is there to suggest that it IS a rank badge/token?

Peter

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I made enquiries whilst we were in Egypt - I used to visit Sudan and Egypt quite frequently and I was told that it was normal practise for a ceremonial flywhisk to be carried as a status symbol. In East Africa, Chiefs still do carry one. Certainly, I was assured that this has the military connection. However, we all know how things can take on exagerated status - so prove me wrong ???

Sorry - that sounds rude and it wasn't meant to be - I can only say that I can't prove it either way.

Edited by Mervyn Mitton

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To show the importance of a fly whisk in certain countries - this a chief's from Uganda. Made from ivory and ebony - the hair will be from the end knot on a giraffes tail. In some ways, they are not dissimilar to an old British tipstaff in showing authority.

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... I was told that it was normal practice for a ceremonial fly whisk to be carried as a status symbol. In East Africa, Chiefs still do carry one. Certainly, I was assured that this has the military connection. However, we all know how things can take on exaggerated status - so prove me wrong ???

Sorry - that sounds rude and it wasn't meant to be - I can only say that I can't prove it either way.

Mervyn

Can't prove you wrong, nor do I wish to. Being told that it was a) military and b) particular to a certain rank are certainly reasons to think and say so. I'm cursed [or blessed] with my father's philosophical dictums - he is a D. Phil. - and many years arguing with adolescents. I always fall back on the scientific dictum that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

While the notion that this is military fly whisk is hardly "extraordinary" in any sense, I jumped at and on the notion that you had no reason not to think... as opposed to having reasons X and Y to believe it was... . My apologies.

BTW, fly whisks are also still carried as emblems of authority in West Africa - specifically, in northern Nigeria. Or were 20+ years ago when I was there for a while.

Please keep posting treasures from your seemingly bottomless treasure chest!

Peter

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Peter - please, why are you apologising ? Neither meant anything in our comments. I was very tired and when I re-read it realised that it sounded a 'challenge' - which I hadn't intended. Anyway - back to our Sirdar. I was thinking about it this morning - at this time Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire and they, certainly used to carry emblems of authority - usually horsehair. A Pasha always had horsetails on standards carried in front of him on staffs. So, perhaps a Sirdar did also ? This rank, although having a military equivalent, was also used by civilian administrators. I think we will have to wait and see if anyone else can add - I wonder if we have any Egyptians in GMIC ?

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One of the best references for items used in colonial conflicts always proves to be period pictures. I'd not aware of any published collections of photographs from Egypt and the Sudan in this period, but I'd bet there is one, and, if this was a common item, you can probably find one similar in one of the pictures.

Also, if this were to be identified to a Sirdar, it could have been used by an Egyptian official as well. When I was delving into Egyptian court uniforms about a week ago (they're on of the few nations I don't have any references for!) I dug up a few pictures of old Egyptian officials, I'll look around for fly whisks and report any findings.

~TS

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Also, if this were to be identified to a Sirdar, it could have been used by an Egyptian official as well. When I was delving into Egyptian court uniforms about a week ago (they're on of the few nations I don't have any references for!) I dug up a few pictures of old Egyptian officials, I'll look around for fly whisks and report any findings.

~TS

Now there's a man with esoteric interests! Good on ya, mate! Do let us know if you find anything, please.

Peter

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A preliminary search turned up nothing. I'll keep on looking though! Ottoman and Egyptian items are tough, pictures references are limited to a few British officials in books and pictures of the Khedive and the higher level officials in most cases.

I bought two British diplomatic uniforms a while back and just fell in love with them. I've now got references to identify most of the British ones (thanks to the forum), Japanese, German, Russian, Italian, and a few others, mostly from detailed photos collected from auctions. I've also been building up a picture library of Austrian uniforms, as their Generals and their diplomats wear very similar uniforms. It still isn't huge but, I can identify the basics very easily now, which can often be very tough with these uniforms that were so similar across Europe. Next I'm going to work on an inventory of tailors so I can date them! :)

~TS

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TS - great. Would be nice to see some of the uniform pictures - they were very elaborate with their gold braid.

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A member's just PM'd me saying that there was a book published that illustrated Egyptian civil court uniforms prior to WWII. Finding that hat would be absolutely great, because I found one of these books for the UK uniforms thanks to a forum member and thus got a pretty good handle on British civil uniforms, although I'm still a /bit/ fuzzy on some of the dates for pattern changes, as there is a difference between pre- and post-WWI pieces.

Anyway, does anyone know any booksellers in Egypt? I'm sure that if this whisk was a patterned item, it would have remained in use and probably be in the book.

And Mervyn, since I haven't said it thus far, beautiful whisks! Hopefully the forum membership will eventually be able to ID the ivory one!

~TS

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:Cat-Scratch:

A book on Egyptian civil court uniforms??? I would be extremely interested in any further details, if available. There are a few Egyptian-published books (many in English) that feature photos of uniforms of royalty and civil servants, but as far as I know none specifically on the uniforms themselves.

I've spent quite a lot of time traveling in Egypt and rooting around in bookstores, with limited success. There are of course a number of good bookstores and publishers in Cairo, where you can occasionally find surprises. The American University in Cairo Press publishes a number of illustrated books on 19th and early 20th century Egypt (with some incidental photos of uniforms in them), they're one of the few Egyptian bookstores/publishers with a web presence

http://www.aucpress.com/t-aucbookstores.aspx

though their website is often extremely shaky, and I'd be reluctant to order anything directly from them -- most of their books are available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Chris

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Hello Gents;

I'm neither an expert on fly whisks or Egyptian civil uniforms but I can claim a nodding acquaintance with the Egyptian Army ( EA ) of the 19th century. Must admit that I had never come across the fly whisk as a badge of office but certainly horse tails were used to denote the most important of all Ottoman standards, the Sancag-i Serif which was always taken on campaign and kept in a special tent. It was accompanied by seven tug which consisted of horse tails carried on poles. It's quite likely that the symbolism was retained by subsequent Ottoman Sultans and a fly whisk regraded as an obvious, and quite functional ( ! ) symbol of office.

No doubt everyone is familiar with the following but, just in case, here's a list of the Ottoman ranks that were used in the EA until the mid-1950's when a pan-Arabic system of ranks was introduced;

SIRDAR - Commander-in-Chief

FERIK - Lt-Genl.

LEWA - Major-Genl.

MIRALAI - Colonel/Brigadier

KAIMAKAM - Lt-Col.

BIMBASHI - Major

SAGHKOLAGHASI - Captain/Major acting as Bn. Staff Officer

YOUSBASHI - Captain

MULAZIM AWAL - Lieutenant

MULAZIM TANI - 2/Lieut.

In addition, the 3 general officer ranks carried with them the honourific title of PASHA, Miralai and Kaimakam carried the honourific BEY while the lesser ranks received the title of EFFENDI. All of these honourific titles were also used within the Ottoman/Egyptian civil service and a man's title would indicate his rank within the civil/military establishment. The term EFFENDI was used in deference to any man of education and civilian clerks and translators serving with the EA were granted this title.

Now that I think about it, I seem to recall seeing a photograph of Sir Reginald Wingate Pasha, sometime Sirdar of the EA, Governor-General of the Sudan and, finally, Briain's High Commissioner in Egypt, holding a fly whisk in one of his portraits. Must see what I can find.

Cheers,

Mark

:Cat-Scratch:

A book on Egyptian civil court uniforms??? I would be extremely interested in any further details, if available. There are a few Egyptian-published books (many in English) that feature photos of uniforms of royalty and civil servants, but as far as I know none specifically on the uniforms themselves.

I've spent quite a lot of time traveling in Egypt and rooting around in bookstores, with limited success. There are of course a number of good bookstores and publishers in Cairo, where you can occasionally find surprises. The American University in Cairo Press publishes a number of illustrated books on 19th and early 20th century Egypt (with some incidental photos of uniforms in them), they're one of the few Egyptian bookstores/publishers with a web presence

http://www.aucpress.com/t-aucbookstores.aspx

though their website is often extremely shaky, and I'd be reluctant to order anything directly from them -- most of their books are available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Chris

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Who would have thought that when I bought that whisk, so many years ago , it would develop such interesting background info. - thankyou, everyone who has written, and I hope that we - meaning, all of you - can find out more. Mark's list of Turkish ranks is one I will be copying for future ref..

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Was offered an interesting officer's fly whisk last week - didn't buy it because of condition. However, plain ball top in silver - date marked for 1917 - and on a swagger stick. At the other end a donkey's tail - dyed red - had been bound on with thread to act as a whisk. Probably with Gen. Allenby's forces in the Middle East ?

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