I was presented with my cossack whip long ago. To my regret in those years I didn’t realize the value of this gift. My grandfather was seriously ill, and there was nobody around to explain me that his gift was a symbol.

According to Cossack traditions the cossack whip (nagaika) was given to a boy as a first weapon. This was a symbol of the end of a carefree childhood. From this day a boy should be responsible for all his actions.

I remember how upset were women in our family when I received this gift from my grandfather. “It’s not a toy! He’ll knock out someone’s eye or hurt himself!”  They have made every effort to distract me from the whip. The nagaika was hidden somewhere in the closet and was lost  thanks to the efforts of our women during  the next move to another apartment.

The cossack whip was a part of cossack ammunition and was considered as a weapon. The Don Cossacks were excellent horsemen, so at first glance you might decide that nagaika is needed to control the horse. But I never seen the cossack to hit a horse with a cossack whip,  at the most – a light tapping by the top of the hilt.

Once in my youth I was taking part in cheerful man’s party. After many beers followed by vodka conversation went about the Cossack weapons.  Our host brought a cossack whip and  struck on a leather sofa with all his might. A cossack whip cut through thick leather upholstery with ease. Guests were leaving a party in a hurry to avoid meeting with house owner’s wife.

There are many types of cossack whips.  There are nearly so much as existed the Cossack districts – Kuban, Ural, Caucasus types. The Don Cossacks used the whip with wooden hilt. I think that the ancestor of  Don Cossack whip was Nogai kamcha – short whip of Central Asian origin.

Nagaika or Naguka

Genuine kamcha looks something like this.

Modern nagaikas

image by Lapot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays you can easily get cossack whip in gift shops, but it will have little in common with genuine Don Cossack whip. Real Don Cossack whip is made of raw cow leather. It requires special care. It should be lubricated periodically as any other weapon.

Neglected  whip absorbs moisture and loses strength. Sometimes you can broke such whip by a couple of hits.

Most part of new souvenir whips are good only to hang them up on a wall as decoration.

Real cossack whip is very strong and should serve you many years.

The secret of whip popularity among Cossacks lies in the fact that  a technique of the whip blow  just copies the blow of cossack shashka (cossack saber).
In both cases the blow is struck with the direct weapon, at the time of the blow the handle of a whip and a lash have to lie on one line.

So learning to use a whip boys  from an early age learned to wield the sword.

Experienced Cossack armed with the whip could emerge victorious from the battle with the enemy armed with a sword.

From the end of 19th century Don Cossacks were used by the government of the Russia as a special police force.  The main tasks of these units were dispersal of demonstrations and suppression of internal disturbances and riots.

The cossack whip served as a main weapon in these operations. The Cossacks rarely used sabers against unarmed enemies, but some of the clashes led to the lethal outcomes.

I’ve seen once in my childhood how a dog with rabies was killed by two blows of a whip after it’s attack on human.