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Old 13th August 2005, 01:20 AM   #1
Michael Blalock
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Default The Yemeni Jambiya

For those with an interest in Yemeni Jambias here are a couple of articles I came across.

The jambiah, a curved dagger, is the main customary accessory to the clothing worn by Yemeni men. For thousands of years, the people of South Arabia have inherited the their jambiahs from generation to generation.

The current shape of the jambiah is descended from the swords that our ancestors used to defend themselves against enemies and wild animals – it was like a Kalashnikov for people in more primitive days.

Yemeni man carefully protected their jambiahs, taking them as part of their personality and life. In spite of the reasons for wearing the jambiah from age to age, and despite the principle of development, the jambiah has remained connected to Yemeni men and has become an indispensable part of their personalities. Many feel that no man is complete without his jambiah.

The jambiah now is the symbol of a man’s character and love of his nationality. Its traditions go far beyond being just a weapon used to defend oneself.

The jambiah, as said by historians, is derived from the sword, but after the rise of Islam when the Yemeni people felt safe all across the Arab world, a shorter sword replaced the long one. It was called the sibiki, something between the sword and the jambiah. The sibiki is still used in the Mainbah region in the Governorate of Sa’ada governorate. But it was still quite long for a decoration and too heavy to be worn regularly, especially once people became accustomed to a life of stability and luxury. So it was that the medium-sized weapon also shrank and took the shape of the jambiah.

Yemeni craftsmen proved creative in making the jambiah, decorating its head and producing different styles. Yemeni merchants also achieved success in hunting rhinoceros and using its horn to make the hilt. They traveled to East Africa, Kenya and other African countries to bring rhinoceros horns. When the merchants returned to Yemen, the craftsmen would await them eagerly to turn the mere horns into different beautiful jambiahs.

The Jewish artisans of Yemen proved to be the greatest geniuses in manufacturing the jambiah, taking it as an exclusive profession. According to Sheikh Sha’alan Al-Habari, master of the jambiah suq in Old Sana’a, some individuals gained celebrity for their work such as Al-Busani and Al-Budihi. In other cases, entire families earned a high reputation, such as Al-Saifani, Al-Assadi and Al-Zalaf.

Those celebrated people and families used to leave their stamps on their products as well as the date of the piece’s manufacture. Some jambiahs date back to more than 800 years. There are many kinds of jambiahs arranged from most precious to cheap, with the best coming from Al-Saifani, followed by Al-Assadi, Al-Zalaf and Al-Safi. The names of these jambiahs are taken from the names of the families which inherited the trade from generation to generation.

The strangest thing about jambiahs is their price: they range from YR 500 to more than YR 200 million! The most expensive and famous jambiah was purchased by Sheikh Naji Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Sha’if, who was able to pay US $1 million for one prized and ancient piece. This jambiah had a historical importance, belonging to Imam Ahmed Hamid Al-Din, who ruled Yemen from 1948 to 1962. The Imam’s most precious possession was transferred to Sheikh Hussein Al-Watari, who in turn sold it to Sheikh Al-Sha’if.

According to Sheikh Muhammad Naji, the son of current owner of the most precious jambiah, his father’s prize is the most expensive and famous one in the country. Its cost was made so high because it is one of the best jambiahs ever made by Al-Saifani, and a piece of history, as well.

The second highest price ever paid for a jambiah was for the one that Sheikh Ahmed Hamid Al-Habari sold to Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hussein Al-Ahmar for YR 150 million.

The master of the janabi suq said that ever since the United Nations prohibited rhinoceros hunting, no more jambiahs are made of its horn. The merchants anticipate that the price of the jambiahs currently on the market will increase dramatically.

Aged jambiah merchant Ahmed Mohsen Ziyad, 79, said that each type of jambiah has a different color and shape. The Saifanis could be reddish, yellow, orange, or green. The Assadis were only black, while the Zalafis were often bulbous. The older jambiahs are the most precious.

Some fancy tales are connected to jambiahs, one being the role they can play in curing illnesses. There is, for instance, the story of a jambiah belonging to a man in the village of Zarajah in Dhamar. This jambiah was said to be used for treating people bitten by snakes.

According to Abdullah Al-Qiri of Khawlan, a snake bit him one day and his relatives took him to the owner of that jambiah. The man put the hilt of the jambiah on the wound where the snake had bitten him. The jambiah absorbed the poison from the wound. The hilt of the jambiah then turned black, a sign that it had become filled with poison. The jambiah’s owner used milk to get remove the poison by dipping it in a cup; the poison came out like black strings.

In another tale, Saleh Mohammed Sha’i was in a traffic accident. He was wearing his Saifani jambiah, and although he had a deep wound on his head, he did not bleed until they got him to the hospital. When they took off his jambiah and belt, he then began bleeding profusely. According to narrator of the story, the jambiah was the reason why he didn’t bleed.

Other tales are simpler, but the magic of the jambiahs is still legendary. Many people in the Governorate of Hajjah believe that some jambiahs magically make one’s skin and face shine when they are worn.

Perhaps there are other stories still untold, or magic long forgotten hanging from the walls of antique shops in Sana’a and elsewhere around the country. Every old jambiah has it’s own history, and in the janabi suq, new blades are being made every day whose legends have yet to begin.

Second article


Globalization couldn’t deprive the Yemenis of their Jambia. It is considered as a symbol for the Yemenis.



History of the jambia.

One needs to know what a Jambia is before knowing its history. It is a name given by the Yemenis to a sort of a twisted dagger. It is worn around the waist in many cases towards the side and hence the name Jambia from “jamb” which means in Arabic side.

There are several theories about the origin of the Jambia. There are historical facts, concerning the existence of the Jambia revealling that it used to be worn at Sheban times, in the Himiarite kingdom. They take the statue of the Sheban king (Madi Karb 500 bc ) as proof. This statue, which was discovered by an American mission in Marib in the 1950s, was found to be wearing a Jambia.

The president has lately given the national museum a present of bronze pieces that go back to the Himirite era. These pieces were used for ornamenting Jambia sheaths. Researchers depend on the still on going habit of ornamenting the handles of the Jambia with old Himirite golden coins.



Structure and make

Jambias constitute of a handle, the blade and the sheath in which the blade is put. It is made of a certain sort of wood, to hold the blade that is fixed to the waist in a neat way. The belt that holds the Jambia is made of tanned leather, or some thick cloth. There are specialized markets and handicraft markets that decorate it with golden wires.

The Jambia handle often tells of the social status of the man who wears it. They are made of the African rehnsorus’s horn, ivory and also (Almoswae) horn. A kilo of this often costs $1500. The manufacturers receive this through smugglers, due to the international ban on this stuff. This contributed to the retreat in the manufacturing of valuable Jambias. The Rehnorus horn is considered to be the most precious. The Jambias value increases as it acquires modern and old qualities.



Qualities of Jambia in Yemen

The most famous sort of the Jambia is that which has a “saifani” handle. It has a dim yellowish luster. When it is clearer, it turns into a yellow color. This is called saifani heart.

Some of the saifani handles are called “Asadi”, when they turn into greenish yellow. When the handle becomes Whitish yellow, it is called Zaraf. There is also Albasali (onionish) kind whose color looks like white onion.

The saifani Jambia is often worn by dignitary persons; among them are the Hashimites (descendants of the prophet – mpboh), the judges, famous merchants and businessmen. Some of these Jambias cost about Yr 70 millions, like that of sheikh Al-Shaif, which goes back to Imam Yahia Hameed Aldeen. The ordinary Jambias cost about Yr 10 - 50 thousands.



Jambia and the Yemeni culture

Jambias are often inherited, because of their symbolic social meaning. It is a sign of loyalty to tribal norms and social prestige. The social importance of the Jambia led the Yemenis to make a lot of poems that describe the Jambia.

When individual and tribal disputes break out, the Jambia is used as a means of arbitration, which is called in Yemen Alfara’a (reconciliation) and Adl (justice).

He who abandons his Jambia, whatever the conditions are, would be defamed by his peers and acquaintances. The Jambia should not come out of its sheath except in extreme cases. Or as it is used in the famous Yemeni (bara’a) dance.

Officials and government employees are forbidden to wear their Jambias during the working hours. The judges, ulma MPs, and sheikhs are exempted. Prominent sheikhs are often keen to put on their Jambias. Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussien Al-Ahmar, the speaker of the parliament is often keen to put on his Jambia even if he is going abroad
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Old 13th August 2005, 01:50 AM   #2
ariel
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Great post! Tons of valuable information. many thanks.
You mention a short sword called "sibiki" : what did it look like?
How different are Yemeni and Omani jambiyas? Any specific names for different forms?
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Old 13th August 2005, 02:51 PM   #3
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Default Sibiki

I'm not positive but I presume a sibiki jambiya is similar to the wahhabite style of Saudi Arabia, longer and straighter, heavier with a sharper blade and is typically worn horizontally across the waist. It is also longer than the diagonally worn jambiya that was used by the upper class and sayyidi. While the majority of tribsmen wore the vertical jambiya with the sharp hooked scabbard. The border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is still not established and I belive there are tribal affiliations which span the two countries.
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Old 13th August 2005, 02:56 PM   #4
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Default Jambiyas

I meant to post these with the previous reply.
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Old 14th August 2005, 04:01 AM   #5
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Thank you for your posting of the articles. I love Yemen jambiyas, but have yet to own one that has true silver beyond 50%. Thus I have about given up on the Yemen jambiya, especially the purer silver with a "T" top pommel (which I enjoy). Most I have seen do not have the good quality silver work for which I look and the blades are cheap. I guess I'll have to pay "millions" for the type I search.
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Old 14th August 2005, 12:35 PM   #6
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Yemen, in the 1960's when the country first opened up to Westerners, was a very impoverished society with no concept of tourism. The average pay for a laborer or servant working for the Americans was less than 25 cents a day of which 10 cents had to be used to purchase Qat. In 1962 the world price of silver was over $1.00/OZ, a fortune to the majority of Yemenis. Most of the "silver" worn by Yemenis, either Jambiyas or jewelry was typically German Silver.
In the years I lived in Yemen I never saw anyone wearing a jambiya with a silver grip. I did collect one very old white metal jambiya with a silver T-top pommel but it was made of German Silver.
The real quality of the jambiya was based upon the color and translucency of the Rhino horn grip, the blade and the quality of coins in the grip, the best coins being true gold Venitian ducats or Indian copies. The scabbards of the best sheiks jambiyas were usually brass or gold plated filligree metal. The majority of Yemenis decorated the sheaths of their jambiyas with bright plastic, cloth and rivets, similar to the gaudy decoration on the cartridge belts everyone wore due to the civil war.
While there was real silver used on the finials and trim, I am of the opinion that the vast majority of the high grade silver (museum quality) jambiyas, particularly those with silver grips, as well as the tons of very expensive (museum quality) Yemeni jewelry available on ebay and the other internet sources is of very recent manufacture and made for the western market. Hence, the use of silver which is now relatively cheap, to justify the high prices.
Frankly, if you have a german silver jambiya or bracelet, I think it is more likely to be antique than a high grade silver piece which until recent times would have been melted down for its cash value.
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Old 15th August 2005, 08:34 PM   #7
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W W! I had no idea. Thank you so much for clearing up what was a mystery to me. I guess it is like Moro pieces, everyone says that the mounts are silver, until I test them and find German silver. Explains a lot. I am now enlightened.
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Old 20th August 2005, 12:14 AM   #8
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Here's a Yemeni with what I presume a Sibiki might be.
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Old 6th May 2013, 03:45 PM   #9
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I have been reading this thread with great interest and in fact, it is the first that has given me any information at all.. so thank you!

My Father just recently acquired a Jambiya, although in doing some research on it for him, I believe it is a Thuma. 1930's or somewhere in there. It does not have the hard J shape, but on the other hand, the scabbard is not made entirely of silver. It looks to be a leather backing of some sort.

It came with the brocade belt and two prayer amulets attached to it.. I am researching those currently..

As I stated, we have just recently came into this, so the markings on the amulets I have just read about and will check them when I again have access to this.

My question though is on the Thuma. Are there certain styles for certain tribal areas? How do you tell what kind of horn the handle is made from. Is it all in the patina? How do you tell what kind of silver is used without destroying the item?

Any further information would be greatly appreciated..

It is a beautiful piece. We just want to know what we have.

Thank you!
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Old 7th May 2013, 06:14 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrystal Dawn
I have been reading this thread with great interest and in fact, it is the first that has given me any information at all.. so thank you!

My Father just recently acquired a Jambiya, although in doing some research on it for him, I believe it is a Thuma. 1930's or somewhere in there. It does not have the hard J shape, but on the other hand, the scabbard is not made entirely of silver. It looks to be a leather backing of some sort.

It came with the brocade belt and two prayer amulets attached to it.. I am researching those currently..

As I stated, we have just recently came into this, so the markings on the amulets I have just read about and will check them when I again have access to this.

My question though is on the Thuma. Are there certain styles for certain tribal areas? How do you tell what kind of horn the handle is made from. Is it all in the patina? How do you tell what kind of silver is used without destroying the item?

Any further information would be greatly appreciated..

It is a beautiful piece. We just want to know what we have.

Thank you!


Salaams Chrystal Dawn, Welcome to the Forum. Indeed you have chosen from library an expert piece of writing by Michael Blalock. Can you post a picture please so that we can see the Thuma and belt? There is a wealth of information if you use the Search function above. There are great debates on what the hilts are made from and of course the important thing is the blade. In the Yemen history has provided us with a peculiar mixture of craftsman styles through the very ornate and highly expert Jewish silver and goldsmiths now dwindling in numbers and since 1948 many have left. It is therefor an interesting corner of modern history steeped in political strife, war and a strange charm.. almost biblical ... all of its own. I am sure you will have great fun searching out what you need, meanwhile, please try to post some pictures.

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 28th June 2014, 03:34 PM   #11
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Salaams All,

I have just read a very interesting couple of articles on the subject at
1. https://www.academia.edu/6441820/Th...s_various_parts

2. http://www.penn.museum/documents/pu...9-2/Cammann.pdf

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Last edited by Ibrahiim al Balooshi : 28th June 2014 at 06:03 PM.
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Old 2nd July 2014, 09:24 PM   #12
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Default More ribbed blade information

Thank you for bring up this topic Michael. Thank you Ibrahiim, your links were of great interest to Me. Most informative was: http://www.penn.museum/documents/pu...9-2/Cammann.pdf page 28, describes the triple ribbed blades being of a different steel and perhaps, that they are an older style. I did not find anything more. We discussed this one here: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...ighlight=dharia
Does anyone know of additional info on blades from the Ansab area? or other examples?
Thanks, Steve
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Old 3rd July 2014, 12:52 AM   #13
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Post More Yemeni Jambia resources

Hello!

I have corresponded with Marie-Christine Heinze who has investigated Yemeni Jambiya for her doctoral thesis. She provided me with the following two reports.

The German Jambiya Expert

The Yemeni janbiya and its various parts

I have also found this document by Esther van Pragg to be very interesting and useful (skip to page 17):

Introduction to the world of old silver jewellery from the Land of the Queen of Sheba

Please let me know if you have trouble accessing the documents!

Best Regards,

Dave A.
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Old 3rd July 2014, 06:44 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Blalock
Here's a Yemeni with what I presume a Sibiki might be.

Hi Michael,
Sabiki is one of the names given to the Dharia type dagger. See here http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=17574. for pics and descriptions.
Stu
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