Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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ariel 6th April 2006 12:34 AM

New book and swords: Tibetan
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Today, April 5, is the opening of the exhibition in the Metropolian Museum in New York:" Warriors of the Himalayas" dedicated to the weapons of Tibet. They published a boook (a catalogue of sorts, only 300+ pages!), written mainly by Donald LaRocca. I was in NY several days ago and bought it (softcover) for $45. will be selling a hardcover version for $75.
Good book, with quite a lot of useful information. One piece of info: Philip Tom is referenced there as preparing a book on Chinese weapons. That should be extremely interesting!!
Tibetan swords per se are not my taste, but still one needs to know the field.
I have three and here they are: the most frequent variety, the short sword and the Bhutanese dagger (notice the difference in pommels: that is apparently how Tibetan are differentiated from Bhutanese). Both swords have faint "hairpin" construction of the blade and this is the hallmark of the genuinely old blades. How old? Well, even in the book the best they could come up with for similar swords is 17th-19th century. No signatures, no style difference over several centuries. The longest one is traditionally called Ke-tri, the dagger is Dughti, the middle one... anybody knows?

Justin 7th April 2006 12:31 PM

Nice pieces!,the middle one is called a Tsep-Sa {spelling may be off}.

dennee 7th April 2006 05:20 PM

Tibetan swords are my favorite. I'll take all you got. :)

Battara 7th April 2006 05:35 PM

We ought to get RSWORD in this - he'll know what to do! :D

ariel 7th April 2006 05:39 PM

No deals on this Forum, please!
Private messsages or Swap Forum only!

dennee 8th April 2006 02:06 AM

Hmmm... My comment was meant facetiously (well, more or less), but the "smilie" I added didn't appear in the post for some reason.

Rick 8th April 2006 02:12 AM

No problems please Gentlemen .
Perhaps Ariel misunderstood your humorous remark dennee .
In fact I'm sure he did . :)

RSWORD 8th April 2006 02:24 AM

Originally Posted by Battara
We ought to get RSWORD in this - he'll know what to do! :D

Yes, it is not often we have posts on Tibetan swords. I'll share some examples from my collection to add to Ariels.

Jim McDougall 8th April 2006 03:41 AM

Yay! Rick!! :)
Absolutely right, we seldom if ever have anything on the very esoteric Tibetan swords and I very much look forward to seeing examples, especially knowing your acumen for coming up with unigue and outstanding examples. I think the most prevalent question that comes to mind concerning Tibetan swords is , how can one discern whether an example is Tibetan, or in fact Bhutanese. The ke tri is well established as Tibetan, but it seems that many of the commonly seen fretted round handle type hilts commonly held to be Bhutanese are actually Tibetan as well ?
All the best,

I know that Mr. LaRocca was working on research on Tibetan swords some years ago, so I really look forward to seeing his work at last in print. The expertise and knowledge of Philip Tom on Asian swords, especially Chinese, is very close to legendary! and I am more than anxious to see his work in print as well!:) I really appreciate the notice on these references . Thanks Ariel!!

ariel 8th April 2006 06:01 AM

According to the book, Tibetan swords are characterised ( among other things) by flat, often trifoil pommel, whereas Bhutanese have round, cask-like pommels.
Phillip's contribution to the book was acknowledged several times, and his papers were cited. Well deserved! Now, we just need to ask him when is his book coming out? I am first in line with a check book!
And, as to my panicky posting, I got so bloody scared when Andrew banned me for 10 days for posting a comment about some active auction, that I lost my sense of humor. Seriously, guys, 10 days without an access to this Forum taught me a lot about addiction, withdrawal and the torments of Edmond Dantes in the Castle If.

dennee 8th April 2006 03:27 PM

I can't wait to read LaRocca's book; it is "bound" to be the definitive work, at least for a time. I have seen it often stated that the division between Bhutanese and Tibetan swords is merely conventional or convenient. I have never believed it to be so, however. Typical examples with a Bhutanese provenance tend to be shorter, to have a waisted chain or wire (or shagreen) grip, nearly no guard (but a milled metal edge at the base of the hilt) the pierced "gubor" pommel (although I have one with a fluted nickel silver cap instead), and a tripartite scabbard with approximately the lower third covered by a long brass chape and the upper two thirds frequently covered by two contrasting colors of leather (or sometimes velvet). The scabbard throat often has a decorative brass piece. Earlier Bhutanese swords appear to have been thrust through belts as were Tibetan swords, but suspension from a ring at the back of the throat apparently became common by the end of the nineteenth century. There is evidence that Bhutanese swords were traded into Tibet, confusing things somewhat (and of course, Tibetan and Bhutanese swords and blades were traded into Assam and Arunachal Pradesh). The most overlap between forms of Tibetan and Bhutanese edged weapons seems to me to be in knives.

There is a good paper available on the web (search on "Patag: Symbol of Heroes"), which covers Bhutanese swords and is at once perhaps groundbreaking and, on the other hand, really frustrating because it does not provide sufficient references, dating, or comparison between examples.

I am really hoping that LaRocca can solve some dating issues and regional differences in Tibetan sword production. There seems to be a distinct, long, silver and coral decorated type (the scabbards, in particular) that is probably most characteristic of the east, "Khamdo," and perhaps centered on Derge as a production area. But while most (but certainly not all) Tibetan swords have the trilobate pommel, there are certainly other variations of pommels, scabbards and guards.

RSWORD 8th April 2006 05:43 PM

Thank you for the kind words. I do seem to have a knack of digging up unusual examples to post. I hope these examples are found interesting. As Dennee states, there are a variety of pommel/guard styles and I think this can be seen in the grouping to follow. Many pics so hang in there.

RSWORD 8th April 2006 05:49 PM

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This first example is a short sword with a nice gilt and pierced iron scabbard. The hilt is of nicely done brass with red and green tassels. Probably a marriage of an older scabbard(18th/19th century) to a new handle(late 19th, early 20th century).

RSWORD 8th April 2006 05:54 PM

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This example is a large example(29" blade) with an unusual hilt style. It shows strong Chinese influence in grip shape and guard/pommel shape. Guard and pommel with gold and silver koftgari.

RSWORD 8th April 2006 05:57 PM

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This example also has close Chinese ties as it is a pommel type found amongst Chinese minorities groups along the Tibetan border. I have also seen this pommel type pictured with a Tibetan nomad herder.

RSWORD 8th April 2006 06:01 PM

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This next example is a composite piece. It was probably assembled around the 40's or 50's utilizing really nice older, probably 19th century, silver panels with a steel scabbard and handle that does not follow historical styles, i.e., this grip is cylindrical where historically they tend to be rectangular.

RSWORD 8th April 2006 06:03 PM

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This final example feels like the oldest. I would not be surprised if it was 18th century or earlier. Another unusual guard style with the round "vertical" guard and pierced iron mounts in the handle. The round guard probably had a pierced silver decoration at one time that is now gone.

dennee 8th April 2006 06:35 PM

Well done, RSWORD, I am excited to see your interesting examples. (I saw that you had successfully bid on the last one a couple of weeks ago and was interested to see what you thought upon examination. The "guard" generally conforms to the form of that in Stone, p. 594, No. 19, except that, as you suggest, the decorative part seems to have been lost.)

I have been wondering about the type attributed to minority peoples in the border regions. Superficially, at least, it is similar to some shown in photos of Daflas, Adi and Mishmi, for instance, but the grip/pommel is different from ones seen from those tribes. I have been wondering if that type might even be a simpler, earlier sort of military type from Central Tibet. I have also toyed with the idea that it could have been a trade sword, but I think the similarities between the tribal swords and these could just be incidental because they are all basic--it would seem like it would be easier to trade blades only rather than entire swords and that other peoples would "customize" them. I will post a photo of a similar sword in Drepung Monastery near Lhasa.

dennee 8th April 2006 06:49 PM

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Hilt of sword in Drepung Gompa main hall (hung with inside-out ding jia coat, etc.)

dennee 8th April 2006 06:56 PM

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The hilt of a similar sword (rewrapped) and reportedly found in U province (i.e., central Tibet, Lhasa area).

RomaRana 9th April 2006 12:33 AM

I had the time to page through the book today. It looks really good, much like the other books they put out for arms and armour only THICKER.

I am going to go to see it next friday, I will take some pictures if anybody wants me to.

Also the horse armour show is still there if anybody cares.

Jim McDougall 11th April 2006 02:58 AM

Hi Rick,
Thanks so much for posting these excellent always come through!!! :) Nicely done.
Thanks very much Dennee for the detailed notes and observations! That was what I was looking for and now I have a better grasp with the examples Rick and you have posted and your notes.
Ariel, thank you for your observations as well, and I'll be right next to you in line when Philip's book is out!! :)

All the best,

Titus Pullo 11th April 2006 04:13 AM

Originally Posted by dennee
Hilt of sword in Drepung Gompa main hall (hung with inside-out ding jia coat, etc.)

That's a nice suit of armor against arrows. I guess the same concept as the Romans sectional armor! You know...very flexible and very very tightly tied together where the section joined to prevent against stabbing, and not even an arrow from small Roman ballista can penatrate the Roman sectional armor. Ingeneous design, nonetheless, like the Roman counterparts!

dennee 30th April 2006 11:23 PM

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I finally got this new "bible" Friday night. It is fantastic! Some wonderful examples of everything, a glossary, and some period Tibetan source material. The section on armor is enough to knock anyone's socks off. Very, very nice swords too. As I have been working much of the weekend, I have still not read most of it. And still haven't had time to get to the exhibit--definitely this month. Regarding subjects we discussed above, LaRocca confirms the Tibet/Bhutan distinction in swords, shows some interesting variations in blades and hilts and scabbards, attributes the lozenge-section metal or wood pommel to Kham (but perhaps the more southern regions)--and also shows horse armour, saddles, guns, archery equipment, shields, spears, etc.

There's a nice chapter on the historical development of metal working in Tibet.

Extremely important for students and collectors are LaRocca's date attributions.

It's really unfair to ask any more of LaRocca (I think he is now my hero), given the incredibly impressive job he has done and the limitations of even a 400-page book. I do wish there were more discussion of Bhutanese swords (and helmets, if not other items) as, while they are distinctive, the geographic distinction between Tibet and Bhutan is one that reflects more modern politics than culture or pre-20th-century history. He has a good discussion of sword production areas in Kham, but one wonders about elsewhere (Guge, for instance, and U-Tsang) in recent centuries. While archaeological investigations have unearthed important Tibet armor finds at Tsaparang (and much earlier at Mihran in Xinjiang), archaeology in Tibet is still in its infancy. Imagine what could be uncovered at ironworking sites. I am also interested in trade of arms within Tibet (and trade to it), and the sale of swords or blades particularly to Indian hill tribes in the Brahmaputra watershed (along the Dihong and Subansiri valleys).

Arms books are often criticized for showing the best, most beautiful examples. While LaRocca has certainly pictured and described some of the rarest and most highly decorated examples, many are self-evidently extremely important. The high level of decoration of many (including gilding) actually helps the objects read better in photos and shows what many of the more modest examples were trying to emulate. On average, the items featured are older than the average material one runs across are thus worthy of view simply because of their scarcity and because they illustrate their development and cross-cultural influences. But a virtue in using some more modest swords as examples, however, is that they are sometimes falling apart or can be taken apart to show some of the hidden details close up. An examination of tangs and of the construction of the pommels and guards would be interesting. A little more information and perhaps diagrams on the blade manufacture could also be useful.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to post a few additional photos I have--of nothing as nice as in LaRocca's exhibit!

I find the generally plain swords with lozenge-section pommels particularly interesting if only because LaRocca attributes them to Kham (Koslov ran across them there a century ago), and they are so different from the other sort of eastern sword usually seen decorated with silver and coral. I have posted another example, in this case a short one, that bears some relationship to the sword LaRocca shows on page 167--although much simpler and with what looks like a duan jian blade. It might be a kind of link between the plain Khampa types and those of the Yi, etc. to the east.

Below that is a dagger and below that a couple of sword tangs. These are all from Tsurpu Monastery (I have photos from others there, but I was shooting in relative darkness with an unfamiliar camera on a concrete floor, so the quality is often not good).

Below these is a shot from the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, showing a Tibetan sword and a Bhutanese sword with a bonus of a really nice Baiwan sword and a couple of little dhas.

dennee 30th April 2006 11:48 PM

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And some armor...

The first shot is the Pitt-Rivers lamellar armor that LaRocca shows in his book. Here it is in its case at the museum.

Following that is mail in one of the chapels at Tsurpu, then a helmet there.

Then, the "obverse" and "reverse" of one of my cane shields. Although faded, you can see the starburst pattern on a flat shield as those found at Tsaparang and like the one LaRocca shows on pp. 92-94, but the reinforcements or struts are much wider and cruder than those.

athena 9th May 2006 01:28 PM

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Here is an example:
Blade shape is similar to bronze sword of Zhou Dyn.

Tim Simmons 9th May 2006 04:41 PM

I received a copy of this book last week. Fantastic value for money. I gave a Tibetan sword without a scabbard to my godson, my sisters first boy on his christening, I cannot really ask for it back :o can I?

Mark 9th May 2006 08:29 PM

Great stuff. The picture of the short tangs really caught my eye, because without seeing the blades, I would swear they are on a dha. The short tang is an unusual feature of dha, and it is very interesting to see such similar tangs on Tibetan weapons. The Burmese and Kachin are "Tibeto-Burman" peoples who migrated southeast from the area of Assam and Tibet.

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