Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: College Park, MD
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.