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Author Topic:   Thai Priest Knives
wilked
Senior Member
posted 06-21-2004 09:10     Click Here to See the Profile for wilked   Click Here to Email wilked     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Just for you Tom a picture up front.
You can know so much about a country and still know so little. I ran into these knifes in Bangkok on my last trip and was immediately taken. Working in and around Thailand for the last 18 years and I had not seen these.
"Priest knifes" everyone called them and it was only after I bought one and started showing it around that they came out of the woodwork. Within two days of showing it to my drivers I had six people come by to share theirs with me. Even my Aunt had one in pewter and teak that had belonged to my Father-in-law and she would NOT part with it. She kept it hid so her husband wouldn't be tempted to sell it. They are quite pricey for the average person and generally kept as heirlooms.
Made or rather designed by Budhist priests, those designs are then translated into the real thing by craftsmen that work specifically for the temple. No two are the same and they come in sizes from shirt pocket (complete with a pen-like clip) to short sword from spike blade to betle nut knife. It is said that each knife is blessed by the monk that designed it and that he wraps one of his hairs around the tang before it is set in the handle. I'm told most are made near a temple in Nakhon Sawan (2 1/2 hrs north of BKK). They are considered the same as the amulets that are ever present hanging from a Thai's baht chain. The more prestigous the monk that made it, the more power transfered to the one who posseses it. Like phra (amulets) they technically can't be bought only rented. The two most universal features I've found going through the book are scrollwork that runs the complete length of the blade along the upper edge and square sheaths that generally have wide nickel or silver bands top, bottom and middle (most with wire trim) though some are banded with rattan. Here's the one I was able to afford.



That's a prayer in sanskrit (I believe) which is a feature of several that I saw.
I managed to talk the dealer out of his reference book and am currently pleading with my wife to translate it. She's making me pay cause she found out how much I paid :0 I also picked up 2 sets of posters both the posters and the book center around the knifes made by one temple and a very famous priest. Here's the rest of the pics that the dealer let me take. Enjoy!



[This message has been edited by wilked (edited 07-29-2004).]

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[This message has been edited by wilked (edited 07-29-2004).]

[This message has been edited by wilked (edited 07-29-2004).]

[This message has been edited by wilked (edited 07-29-2004).]

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ariel
Senior Member
posted 06-21-2004 11:48     Click Here to See the Profile for ariel   Click Here to Email ariel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the pics! Very interesting knives.
Somehow their scabbards remind me of the Moro Gunongs, and the blades also have a Bolo/Kampilan flavor.
Yes, I know, I know.....
But nevertheless, any possible connection?

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Federico
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posted 06-21-2004 14:16     Click Here to See the Profile for Federico   Click Here to Email Federico     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I want to be clear, I am not arguing that there was a mysterious apprenticeship program, lost school of smithing, ec... However, Moro slave raiders were not confined to PI alone, despite what some propaganada would like us to believe. Iranun and Balangingi raiders did raid as far north as Thailand and Vietnam. Of course not with the regularity and frequency that they hit other closer areas, but they did cast a wide net. So that could be one possible point of diffusion, one way or the other. But then again, as with many SE Asian knifes, there are limited materials and ways to deal with them that seem somewhat universal, so perhaps it is merely a case of co-evolution. Then again, isnt there argument for a Thai keris? Wonder what ancient ties (no pun intended) there are across the Malay world.

ps. forgot to add, awsome knives, really makes me consider learning more about this region and its weaponry (particularly considering 5000 new hmong are arriving from Thai refugee camps to the twin cities, giving us a grand total of something like 45,000-60,000 hmong in the State, though that really just means the Twin cities metro area). Anyways, I am amazed by your field/foot-work, it is indeed inspiring.

[This message has been edited by Federico (edited 06-21-2004).]

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Smilodon Fatalis
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posted 06-21-2004 14:52     Click Here to See the Profile for Smilodon Fatalis   Click Here to Email Smilodon Fatalis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Fine blades indeed, my question is what was the purpose in the mind of the maker... were they used like kerises as pusaka, were they made for combat, were they used in ceremonies or sacrificial and by finding that out maybe we can make the ,,Darwinistic,, origins connection members seem to be eager finding out. I don`t believe the term ,,priest knife,, necesarilly speak totally for itself, is it?

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Ian
Senior Member
posted 06-21-2004 18:36     Click Here to See the Profile for Ian   Click Here to Email Ian     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wilked:

I wonder if you would take a look at a mystery knife from a past posting. You can find it here:

http://www.vikingsword.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/001240.html

There was much discussion about the origin of the knife that was the subject of this thread, but it occurrd to me after looking at some of your pictures here that perhaps this knife has a similar origin. What do you think?

Ian.

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wilked
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posted 06-21-2004 21:48     Click Here to See the Profile for wilked   Click Here to Email wilked     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
IAN,
Yes, absolutely that's a priest knife both the scroll work and that particular figure identify it as such. I've got a picture of a very similiar knife in the book. I'll try and get it scanned. I'd say that it comes from a different maker/temple than the ones I own as the ferrules on the hilt are different. A note on the figures, now I've only got small parts of the book translated but, many of the figures represent past religious figures. most carry either a straight or spiraled staff. The only one I'm sure about is the one with the long straight spiraled staff and long beard, he was a famous hermit.
Smilodon,
Yes you're right the common reference really has nothing to do with their use.
These knives go by two other names one I havevn't translated yet, the other is Doctor Knife. The wife gave me just a quick read on that section and says they were used for episiotomy, cutting the umbilical cord and minor surgery. That might explain the wide variety of blade shapes(?)
Today they are used as pusaka and good luck charms. It is not common, but you can occasionally see the smaller versions of these knifes clipped in shirt pockets or in little rectanglar cases worn on the belt.
Federico,
The more I learn about the area and the hodge podge of cultures that have swept through or influnced the area I'm up for anything. In example, the book I have on Thai silversmithing talks about the start of one of the great silver centers in Thailand, Surat Thani. This city in very southern, closer to Malaysia than it is to BKK. Yet the smiths that started this great industry were imported from Burma and refugees from Laos. Lung Som also told me the more detail work you find in an old sword means more Laotian influence as the Laotian smiths brought this particlar design preference with them when they settled in Lampang(north), Uttaradit(north), Ayutthaya (central) and Surat Thani (south). Unfortunately we were a little too drunk or I would've remembered to ask him when that happened (Hey! it was a holiday and I WAS trying to talk him into making me some swords) and yes the collection of the info interests me, I'll let the rest of you scholars puzzle it together.

Dan

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Andrew
EEWRS Staff
posted 06-21-2004 21:54     Click Here to See the Profile for Andrew   Click Here to Email Andrew     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here's a Thai knife I purchased from Oriental-Arms last year:

The blade is heavy, and feels much like a kukhri. I think the handle is ebony, bound with silver. Simple wooden scabbard with braided rattan binding.

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Andrew
EEWRS Staff
posted 06-21-2004 21:56     Click Here to See the Profile for Andrew   Click Here to Email Andrew     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The blade has no markings. A closeup of the handle:

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Federico
Senior Member
posted 06-21-2004 22:49     Click Here to See the Profile for Federico   Click Here to Email Federico     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
After seeing pics of Andrew's "thai" knife, and noticing a similarity in the scabbard, particularly the little plugs on the bottom of the scabbard, I am wondering if a knife I have is also of Thai origins, and if this thread can bring any clues.

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zelbone
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posted 06-21-2004 22:49     Click Here to See the Profile for zelbone   Click Here to Email zelbone     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

WOW!!!

Those are beautiful knives! Consider yourself lucky to be able to research these fine weapons first hand. You are definately an asset to this forum.

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zelbone
Senior Member
posted 06-21-2004 22:57     Click Here to See the Profile for zelbone   Click Here to Email zelbone     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Interesting, Federico. I bought a similar knife at a gunshow thinking that it might have been of Filipino origin. The scabbard had many qualities of a gunong scabbard, yet the hilt was of similar configuration as yours. I ended up trading it awhile back for a real Moro gunong since I just couldn't get a "Moro" or "Filipino" vibe from it. After seeing your knife as well as wilked's examples and Andrew's, I now definately think its of SE Asian origin. A Vietnamese friend from work even said it looks like it could have been Montganard(sp?) Anyways, I'm glad you guys posted these pics since I always wondered about the origin of my old mystery knife.

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Ian
Senior Member
posted 06-22-2004 00:01     Click Here to See the Profile for Ian   Click Here to Email Ian     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dan:

I am so pleased to have (finally) come to some resolution about that other knife that we discussed at length. Your comments about the figure and the staff he has in front of him were the clincher for me. Very interesting topic.

Thanks so much for bringing this category of knives to our attention. Look forward to the scans from your book.

Now ... where to find one or two of these knives???

Ian.

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wilked
Senior Member
posted 06-22-2004 02:52     Click Here to See the Profile for wilked   Click Here to Email wilked     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll do some more research for y'all when I get home, but before I forget --
Thank You Federico for mentioning the Hmung. Some of you may remember that I'm Special Forces. The Special Forces Assoc (I'm currently president of Chapter II here in Okinawa) has raised money for many 10s of years to get the Hmung and Montangard out of those refugee camps. The legal battles were never-ending. We cannot tell you how it feels to finally be able to fulfill a commitment to these fellow warriors and loyal friends that fought by our side. A promise our predecessors made years ago. May they find the US worthy of the journey.

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Ian
Senior Member
posted 06-22-2004 07:22     Click Here to See the Profile for Ian   Click Here to Email Ian     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dan:

The State of Minnesota has been a refuge for many Hmong immigrants for the last 20+ years and we are in the process of receiving another 6,000 from a camp in Thailand -- mostly children under 15 years of age.

This will substantially increase the numbers in our Hmong community, which I think is now the largest in the US (or close to it). Adapting to life in a new place is difficult, but we have developed quite a local Hmong network.

As you say, we still owe these people a lot.

Ian.

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wilked
Senior Member
posted 06-22-2004 08:08     Click Here to See the Profile for wilked   Click Here to Email wilked     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another couple of pages down and more info keeps popping out. The book I have is a reference of all the knifes (swords, bows and staffs) that this priest, Luang Paderm, "made/blessed" in his lifetime. He lived from 1860-1952. The book gives some general history of these knives. Seems at first any knife copuld be a "preist knife" (so you can hold out some hope there Andrew) It was the act of the preist praying over it and the power her imbued to it that made it a preist knife. In fact it was after this preist died and some of the knives were dismantled that they found the hair in the tangs, some had small silver plates with sanskrit prayers inside, and yet others with a solidified white powder. Since the smiths, to the man, denied placeing these items inside the knifes it is believed that this priest's power of prayer made these items appear.
Of note here is the other names for these knives were "ivory handled knives" and another high class term that meant "Ivory handled knife owned by nobility". The book says that as time went on they started to be engraved. The first (and I won't say era or generation cause the book just says "first")generally had dragons or entwined dragons and sanskrit prayers. It was just after this time that the knives became so popular that 4 smithies in Nakhon Sawon became fulltime producers of these knives.

During the "middle" the style started to stabilize and the 'Bai Po leaf shapes started appearing at the base (broadleaf) with linear script and/or scrollwork along the top.

During the present, the style Thep Pahnom is popular. Like an ivy scroll at the base and spiral bars along the spine. There is some confusion here as the wife says this style should include those with figures on the hilt, however the photos clearly show those with the full 3D carving to be in the oldest group (like yours Ian).

Of course the writer wisely states that that he cannot garauntee this information as it is all word of mouth. And now Ian having made you wait through the explainations those pictures of the type you have which I believe to be amongst the oldest.


And as a final shot to those with the cross pollenation theories - take a look at these.

[This message has been edited by wilked (edited 07-29-2004).]

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Ian
Senior Member
posted 06-22-2004 08:34     Click Here to See the Profile for Ian   Click Here to Email Ian     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That book is a great find! Thanks for posting the pictures.

One feature of Thai/Burmese swords that has been bugging me for a long time is the occasional "turned up" tip, such as seen in the picture of the "early" example from your book. I have seen this on a number of distinguished swords (well made and well decorated, and probably owned by important people). I wonder if this is a feature that reflects a religious significance or blessing. There are, of course, many contemporary knives made in this style, but older examples -- especially on swords -- are rare.

The pictures of the hilts are very helpful--I wish I did have that knife in the earlier post, but unfortunately not.

BTW the "early" example does not look all that old to me, but perhaps it has just been preserved very well. Otherwise it resembles in patina and general wear examples of knives and swords (dha/darb) from the 19th C.

Thanks for all the help and information.

Ian.

[This message has been edited by Ian (edited 06-22-2004).]

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Andrew
EEWRS Staff
posted 07-28-2004 17:29     Click Here to See the Profile for Andrew   Click Here to Email Andrew     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I picked up this knife recently on eBay:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=2257151284&ssPageName=STRK:MEWN:IT

I'm quite pleased with the purchase. It was advertised as newly made, and it is. The handle and scabbard are horn, and the fittings silver with a copper ferule. Interestingly, the twisted silver wire is identical to that found on many, many dha. A traditional silver-working technique?

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wilked
Senior Member
posted 07-29-2004 03:39     Click Here to See the Profile for wilked   Click Here to Email wilked     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nice Knife! As the seller says not a tourist blade (as there is no tourist market for these yet). The seller mentions Luang Pra Derm who was the preist that blessed my knife (of course he died in 1954) It looks like a reproduction of a Luang Pra Derm knife that my book references as the early style (turn of the century). Seller says it came from the same small village in Ayutthaya province that he mentions in all his posts. I must assume he means Aranyik, but I saw none of these for sale there when I was there last time - I'll ask next time. My money says it came from the same smiths in Nakhon Sawon that used to make the blades for Luang Pra Derm, the style and workmanship are just too close. They are very jealous of traditional designs. Course Thaiand is also known for its "knock off artists" just haven't seen it in this field yet. Sweet looking knife - personally I'd take it down to the nearest Thai temple and have it blessed. It couldn't hurt and they might be able to fill in some blanks.

(If you go on Sunday about 10 am hang around till after the service, all the food that the monks don't eat turns into a huge potluck of authentic Thai food and everybody's invited).

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Mark Bowditch
Senior Member
posted 07-29-2004 13:41     Click Here to See the Profile for Mark Bowditch   Click Here to Email Mark Bowditch     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just noticed something interesting on these knives -- the tips all have that subtle upturn that is seen in the hua bua and hua lu guy. This clearly is something special, since according to Dan's source the hua bua and hua lu guy were only used on swords given by the king.

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wilked
Senior Member
posted 07-29-2004 19:16     Click Here to See the Profile for wilked   Click Here to Email wilked     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, Ian had also asked about that above, but I have no answers for you. Not all but a signifigant percentage of these have that tip. A borrowed trait? Specific to a certain smith? Maybe added just to distinguish from more common knifes? Could be any of the above. Another question worth asking.

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Andrew
EEWRS Staff
posted 07-29-2004 22:54     Click Here to See the Profile for Andrew   Click Here to Email Andrew     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's almost like a clip-point on a bowie. Perhaps a vestigial element left over from when these were user knives, now become stylistic?

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