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Old 16th June 2024, 06:53 PM   #1
Iain
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Default An unusual 'dha'

A very unusual Southeast Asian sword that I have had for some time but not yet shared on this forum. While I have a fairly good idea of what and where it is/from I am curious to hear the impressions of forumites.

The blade geometry is quite unusual and it is probably the most complex blade I have seen from the region in that sense.

The fittings are deceptively simply but beautifully executed.

I will share dimensions a little later on as I don't want to influence first impressions by giving too much away.
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Old 18th June 2024, 11:32 AM   #2
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Well, although this hasn't obviously peaked anyone's interest for discussion I may as well share the size of this piece. It is big and by that I mean it is a proper two hander measuring 125cm long with a 67.5cm blade and a spine that is 12mm thick at the base. The sword weighs over 1.7kg.

The image shows it next to a northern Thai example and a typical Lao example of "normal" proportions.
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Old 18th June 2024, 12:12 PM   #3
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Hi Iain,

Three days, about 230 views, and no response to your challenge! Perhaps folks just don't know or they are wary of how you presented it.

I'm going to take you at your word that this is a sword, implying that it is of a functional length and constructed such that it could be used in a sword fight. (I'll return to this assumption later). I don't recall having seen a closely similar "dha" before, and I agree that it is very unusual for a SE Asian sword.

Starting with the blade. The rather flat, curved end is uncommon but I have an old Thai sword/machete that has a similarly shaped tip. Otherwise I don't recall another example quite like this one. The blade has a wide fuller that stops short of being the full length of the blade. When I see such a fuller, I think of a Burmese dha. Fullers are also found on some southern Yunnan swords (e.g., Hu Sa dao) and some used by the Jingpo/Kachin in northern Burma and adjacent Yunnan. Without dimensions, we don't know the thickness of the spine. The blade looks to have some age, although it has been cleaned which makes an age estimate more difficult. I don't see a laminated pattern to it.

The hilt is wood with a brass(?) ferrule. The hilt is relatively long, longer than usually seen on Burmese swords, and consistent with hilt/blade proportions found on Thai, Lao, and Montagnard swords. The wood hilt is a dark variety and also seems to have some age. The pommel may be a plain representation of a lotus bud, such as seen on many dha/daab, etc. The cylindrical hilt does not seem to have had anything covering the polished wood, such as plaited rattan rings, and may have presented some difficulty holding the sword when wet. There is no disc guard.

The scabbard is very plain and simple: wood with brass (?) bands at the throat and toe, with similar bands encircling the scabbard at intervals. Nothing very distinctive.

The fullered blade points to a Burmese influence, while the hilt seems too long for a Burmese sword. The longish hilt suggests Thai/Lao origins, perhaps Montagnard, or even Shan. I am concerned about whether the hilt was intended for combat use, given the uncertain grip that the polished wood would offer.

Returning to the assumption that this is a sword-length piece. Iain has been cagey about the dimensions of this item, not wishing to disclose them and "give the game away." Perhaps the dimensions are not those of a regular sword, but one which is smaller or larger than usual. As I look at the last picture, which includes a Buddhist statue and the sword, I wonder whether the statue is one of those small gilded ones, about 4-6 inches in height. If so, then the blade would be no more than 10-12 inches in length. The statue would need to be much bigger (12 inches or more) for this sword to be a useful size in a sword fight. Of course, Iain may have photoshopped two images, one of the statue and the other of the sword and scabbard, and the two have no relationship in terms of size.

Time for some more information Iain.
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Old 18th June 2024, 12:24 PM   #4
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Ha, our posts crossed! That Buddhist statue is a lot larger than I thought.

That is a big sword, and the fuller is obviously intended to help reduce the weight of the blade. I've had other large SE Asian swords that were apparently used by powerful men in the vanguard of an attacking force, basically carving a hole in the enemy lines for other troops to advance. I suspect that this one was used for similar purposes.

I'm going to say Thai or Lao for its origin, probably Thai. The fuller is atypical but clearly serves a purpose given the size of the blade.

That hilt still bothers me from a practical viewpoint.
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Old 18th June 2024, 12:49 PM   #5
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Thanks for indulging my little game regarding the size of this one Ian, the buddha was put there as a clue about region more than size and is not a photoshop except for removing the stand that was holding up the handle of the sword.

To address first your interest in the handle and how it functions, it is of course possible a wrap was in place on the handle at some point, however there are deliberate notches in the wood to show what seems to be the optimal hand position and wood surface is no more slick or difficult to handle than many other dha I have had. However with that being said, because of the size of this piece, it is as much a polearm in many ways as a sword and in my view would be used in a similar manner, which again goes some way to explaining the unusual handle length. The point of balance is right at the guard.

The pommel is indeed solid and quite large and I would agree is a lotus bud form. The wood is most likely rosewood. The bands on the scabbard and the ferrule are samrit and its deep golden hue. There is significant age to my eyes having it in hand, to both the wood and the blade.

The blade really is something of the standout element of the sword with the fullering and geometry, I gave the basic dimensions in my previous post but can add it is nearly 5cm wide at near the tip and the fullering, while shallow past the midpoint of the blade does continue to the tip.

The blade is mounted with the usual use of large amounts of resin.

As for attribution my own feeling is that it is likely from the golden triangle region and most likely Tai Yai/Shan. Very large Shan swords are known and can also be seen in areas where they had a significant presence such as Lampang. This included period photos like the one I am attaching. While these are different in tip form it clearly shows very large swords were known in these areas. I would not be surprised if it was in fact from what is now Northern Burma, large parts of these areas had significant influence from the Lanna side up as far north as Keng Tung, where the local script and language are in fact more or less similar to northern Thai. That particular city was of course crucial for both the Burmese/Qing wars, Burmese invasions into Siam via the northern route and of course as I said at times also a crucial frontline city for Lanna. Hence my inclusion of a typical wooden Shan buddha in the one image in my first post.

Swords like this are always going to remain a bit of a mystery as I have not been able to come across another example even remotely like this, meaning we have nothing to compare it to, but I am fairly confident the regional attribution I have outlined, while broad, is not too far off the mark.
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Old 19th June 2024, 02:24 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain View Post
Well, although this hasn't obviously peaked anyone's interest for discussion I may as well share the size of this piece. It is big and by that I mean it is a proper two hander measuring 125cm long with a 67.5cm blade and a spine that is 12mm thick at the base. The sword weighs over 1.7kg.

The image shows it next to a northern Thai example and a typical Lao example of "normal" proportions.
Hi Ian


I can add little or nothing to your dha, although very interesting objects I do not collect them.
In the past I did make some pedestals for a client. Both prestigious silver and simple dha's have passed through my hands, thinking someday I must have a few in my collection. That is immediately my biggest problem, I find too many objects of interest. Perhaps the curse and blessing of an avid collector. Hence my reaction, I do not contribute anything but still glad you show them.

Best regards
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Old 19th June 2024, 03:11 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Marc M. View Post
Hi Ian


I can add little or nothing to your dha, although very interesting objects I do not collect them.
In the past I did make some pedestals for a client. Both prestigious silver and simple dha's have passed through my hands, thinking someday I must have a few in my collection. That is immediately my biggest problem, I find too many objects of interest. Perhaps the curse and blessing of an avid collector. Hence my reaction, I do not contribute anything but still glad you show them.

Best regards
Marc
Hi Marc, thanks for your kind comment, of course I do not expect everyone to share my interest in the region or these swords. I must admit my own interests tend to be very narrow and I lack knowledge on a great many other kinds of ethnographic weapons and cultures. If nothing else I try to show "unusual" examples to help broaden our general knowledge regarding weapons in this region.
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Old 22nd June 2024, 02:32 AM   #8
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Hi Iain,
The rather flat, curved end is uncommon but I have an old Thai sword/machete that has a similarly shaped tip. Otherwise I don't recall another example quite like this one.
Do you think it's possible that such strange tips could be the result of them having snapped at some point and having been reground?
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Old 22nd June 2024, 07:41 AM   #9
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Do you think it's possible that such strange tips could be the result of them having snapped at some point and having been reground?
No, it's a known form in the region. I am quite confident the sword has not been reshaped.
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