African designs, £9.99
Length: 170.000 cm
Width: 84.000 cm
Height: 135.000 cm
Gift of Major Maxse
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Quilted cotton horse armour
From Sudan, Africa, 19th century AD
For battle and military parades
In the armies of the great empires in the savannah regions to the south of the Sahara (Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Hausa, Kanem-Bornu and others), horses were equipped with heavy, often brightly coloured, garments of quilted cotton cloth. Several pieces of cloths were sewn together and stuffed with kapok, the wool-like strands that surround the seeds of the silk cotton tree. In full battle armour the war-horse would also have worn chain-mail or pieces of leather across the flanks. A chamfron, or headpiece, of metal and cloth completed the outfit.
However, these colourful horses did not always go into battle. Instead they often acted as the body guards for the Emir in the field. The armour was also worn at grand military parades. Today these fabulous costumes are worn only on ceremonial occasions.
This particular horse armour was probably taken during or shortly after the Battle of Omdurman (2 September 1898), which marked the end of the Mahdist state in Sudan. This state had been founded in 1885 by Muhammed Ahmad, the Mahdi, and was fully established by his successor, the Khalifa, whose forces were defeated by General Kitchener at Omdurman.
C.J. Spring and J. Hudson, North African textiles (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
C.J. Spring, African arms and armour (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)