Koummya: Moroccan Daggers
a b c d Example 1. A well worn silver mounted koummya, likely of the later 19th or earlier 20th century, including (a) the black woolen baldric which would be worn outside of the djellaba and over the right shoulder to suspend the koummya at the wearer's left waist; the display face is pictured. (b) Detail of the display face of the scabbard which is fashioned of embossed hallmarked silver. (c) Detail of the opposite scabbard face, less elaborately decorated and well smoothed from years of wear. The scabbard is lined with wood. (d) Inner face, as worn, with the embossed and engraved pommel cap being of the same quality as on the display face. The handle is of dark hardwood. Some resin remains between the silver pommel cap and the wooden handle. There is additional decoration arising from the silver ferrule, which also slightly overlaps the scabbard mouth when the dagger is inserted into its scabbard. The blade is typical in its profile, being made of plain non-patterned steel with a maximum thickness of 4.5 mm. (0.18 inch), beveled and sharpened along its convex side for the three-fifths nearest the tip and along the opposite concave side for the seven-eights nearest the tip. Overall length with scabbard: 42.5 cm. (16.8 inches); overall length without scabbard 40.6 cm. (16 inches); blade length: 24.5 cm. (9.63 inches).
The koummya is the characteristic traditional dagger of the Berber and Arabic peoples of Morocco. Stone classifies these as being one localized variant of the Arabic jambiya, and the contoured handles, curved double-edged blades and exaggeratedly upturned scabbard tips are all features consistent with such an interpretation. In the context of the traditional regional manner of dress, the koummya is worn visibly at the left side, generally about at the level of the waist and is suspended vertically, with the scabbard tip forward, by a long woolen baldric, attached at either end to one of the two scabbard rings, and worn crossing in front and back of the torso and over the right shoulder. A much greater diversity in forms and decoration exists than is represented by the examples presented in this essay and presumably such features could be used to place particular examples geographically and temporally.
a b Example 2. A silver mounted koummya, likely first half of the 20th century. (a) The curved blade is of typical profile and is made of plain steel having a maximum thickness of 3.2 mm. (0.125 inch). The scabbard and hilt mounts are made of embossed hallmarked silver, though, at least for the ferrule, silver sheet has been placed over another layer of reinforcing base metal. The display face of the scabbard is more elaborately decorated than the inside face (not shown). (b) The handle is made of darkly stained hardwood with applied silver ornament. An expanded end of the ferrule overlaps the mouth of the scabbard by about 5 mm. Overall length with scabbard: 41.1 cm. (16.2 inches); overall length without scabbard 36.8 cm. (14.5 inches); blade length: 21.9 cm. (8.63 inches).
Koummya blades are curved and double edged with the portion nearer the hilt remaining relatively straight while the curvature becomes pronounced in the half towards the tip. The length of the blade which is beveled and sharpened is longer along the concave side than along the opposite convex side. Blade thickness tapers from the base of the blade, where it is thickest, to the tip. While the edge bevels may give the blade a flattened diamond or lenticular cross-section towards the tip, the cross-section is rectangular at the forte. These blades are characteristically relatively thin and utilitarian and the presence of fullers or ridges is not typical.
a b c Example 3. A silver mounted koummya, likely mid 19th century. (a) The curved blade is typical in its profile, being made of plain non-patterned steel with a maximum thickness of 3.4 mm. (0.14 inch), beveled and sharpened along its convex side for the four-fifths nearest the tip and along the opposite concave side for the forty-five percent nearest the tip. The wooden scabbard is covered with dark red leather in its central portion and has elaborately embossed silver chapes at each end. The quality of the decoration is the same on both sides. The bulbous handle is made of tan brown rhinoceros horn. (b) The forte of the inside face of the blade is engraved with a paddle wheel steamboat that is also equipped with sails. The ferrule of the handle expands to fit over the mouth of the scabbard. (c) The embossed and engraved silver decoration of the handle as well as of the scabbard occasionally includes what appear to be fragments of old Moroccan silver coins. Close review of this example, however, indicates these apparent inclusions to be continuous with the adjacent embossed work and review of numismatic references fails to reveal exact matches. Perhaps these were intended as a sort of hallmark to specify the quality of the silver. Overall length with scabbard: 40.8 cm. (16 inches); overall length without scabbard 38.6 cm. (15.2 inches); blade length 24.5 cm. (9.63 inches)
The hilts are characteristically made of a single piece of wood, although other materials including rhinoceros horn may be encountered, as well as examples with hilts entirely encased in metal. The central area of the usually smooth grip is narrowed relative to the width just before the ferrule (the band adjacent to the root of the blade) and the opposite pommel end flares out in a manner sometimes described as being reminiscent of an arch or a peacock's tail. The pommel is usually covered by an engraved metal cap which is secured in place by resin, tacks and or the peened end of the tang. The ferrule often expands to slide over the mouth of the scabbard by a few millimeters, presumably as a rain guard.
The scabbards are lined by two slabs of wood, one against each blade face, and usually held together and encased in metal decorated in the same manner as the hilt. A few centimeters from the mouth of the scabbard, in the plane of the blade, are two lugs, one on either side, to which are attached rings for suspension. The curvature of the scabbard follows that of the blade for the length of the blade and then becomes more exaggerated, making almost a ninety degree turn within a few centimeters before ending in a finial. The scabbards will usually have a metal reinforcement plate covering the distal one-third to two-fifths of the midline along the convex cutting edge.
a b Example 4. A koummya of tourist grade, mid 20th century. (a) The warped and roughly finished thin (2.66 mm.; 0.1 inch) curved blade is beveled along its convex side for the distal most three-fifths and along the concave side for the distal most three-fourths. The handle is of soft wood with a brass sheet metal ferrule and an engraved white metal pommel cap on the display face and plain brass on the opposite face. (b) The display face of the scabbard is of chased brass with overlaid white metal panels and has a wooden liner. The inside face of the scabbard, as worn, is of brass with minimal engraving. Not all "tourist" koummyas remain this close to the traditional form, but the hand work usually remains skillfully, though quickly, executed. Overall length with scabbard: 39.7 cm. (15.6 inches); overall length without scabbard 36.8 cm.(14.5 inches); blade length 21.9 cm. (8.63 inches).
Tourist grade koummyas of varying degrees of quality exist in abundance and may be found at almost all arms fairs and flea markets. It is difficult to walk even a block in the Marakkech market without being aggressively offered the opportunity to purchase one or several at "bargain" prices. At the close of the 20th century, the style of the typical tourist offerings had become somewhat more flashy than the example shown, often with mounts of white metal sometimes set with colorful stones and usually being of somewhat diminished size, particularly thinner. Little effort appears to have been expended on the blades of such knives, while a surprising amount of hand work has often gone into the mountings, especially considering that these knives can usually be had for about five to ten dollars even by a weak bargainer.
Spring, Christopher, African Arms and Armour, (London: British Museum Press, 1993). A few examples are illustrated, as is the manner of wear, along with a brief description on pages 24 -26.
Stone, George Cameron, A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times (New York: Jack Brussel, 1961). Brief mention is made under the heading of jambiya, pages 310 - 314.