Join Date: Dec 2004
As a further comment, with regard to dha, at least in Burma and Thailand, it is not speculation but fact that the opulance and quality of decoration on a sword is a direct indication of social rank and status. In both countries permissible decoration for swords was carefully defined (so many bands meant one rank, more bands meant a higher rank, silver decoration was reserved for a certain level of rank, gold only for royal, etc.). There basically was a visual code which I know exists, but haven't deciphered yet. Its just a matter of collection primary sources, which I am working on.
The other issue is "quality" of the sword, and I agree that a humble-appearing sword can have a very high quality. A couple in my collection are this way -- they have simple fittings but really excellent and well-made blades.
So the issue of "quality" acting as a measure of social division really depends on what sort of quality you mean, because there are very real social divisions in SEA, and they definitely equate to an outward display of greater opulance. Leach writes in "Political Systems of Highland Burma" that among the Kachin hill tribes "Changes in social status such as these [reaching adulthood] are indicated mainly by change of dress. Boys not go through any form of ritual initiation ... As he gets older he will take increasing pride in his skill at handling his sword -- which is a general purpose tool serving equally well for felling trees and paring finger nails; elders of the community can usually be distinguished by the fact that they carry a sword of particularly fine quality." p. 134. It is noted in the "Cambridge History of Southeast Asia" ("CHSEA") that in 1454 king Trailok of Ayutthaya (Thailand) passed a law that determined the civil and military status of everyone inthe kingdom, listing various military titles and their appropriate weaponry. Vol. 1, part 1, p. 38. This law instituted a heirarchical numbering system that applied to everyone in the kingdom and fixed each person's status, and their rights and obligations under the law. CHSEA, vol.1, part 1, p. 171. "The Arts and Crafts of Thailand" (I forget the author and page -- I don't have the book in front of me) also says that the quality of ivory carving on the handle of a knife indicated social status.