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Old 18th March 2006, 06:57 PM   #1
GuyM
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Default Burmese Dha for comment

Hello forumnits,

Here are a few picture of a small dagger-size dha from Burma.
I'd love to hear any comment you may have (good or bad), age and origin estimation, etc.

Thanks!
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Old 18th March 2006, 08:35 PM   #2
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Hi Guy:

Hard to judge age and provenance from pictures. I'm going to assume that the wooden hilt and scabbard are covered with thin silver plate, and then silver wire decorations over that. That would be pretty standard for these knives.

The primary area producing these knives is the northeast portion of Burma (Shan States), neighboring northern Thailand, Laos and Yunnan Province (China). It seems these are common decorative items, frequently worn at weddings according to a couple of people who have visited the areas mentioned. They are often attributed to the Shan and various "hill tribes" in the region.

Many of these appear to have been produced since the late 19th C., and I'm not sure they existed much before that time. They are still being produced today. The best source may be Colquhoun, Among the Shan, (1885) where he shows a dha mhyaung that has a silver-covered hilt and scabbard. That is the earliest reference I know of. There is no example of this style of knife illustrated in Egerton's book (published 1880), one nice example is shown in Buttin's collection and attributed to Laos (published 1933), and I can find no similar knife illustrated in Stone's Glossary (published 1934). Levine (2001) shows an example which he dates as late 19th C., and indicates the style extends to 18-19th C, but he includes other hilt styles (including ivory) in this period and it is unclear whether he believes that the silver-over-wood hilts and scabbards are that old. In any case, I think the older publications offer a better understanding of the age of these knives.

So, judging from general appearance, best guess for your knife would be early 20th C. or later. Hope that is helpful and I look forward to further comments from the dhafia.

Ian.

Last edited by Ian : 18th March 2006 at 08:47 PM.
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Old 19th March 2006, 01:36 AM   #3
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I've very little to add to Ian's excellent post.

As Ian notes, the silver sheeting and decorative wirework is distinctive and is often seen accompanied by ivory handles. Paul and Elaine Lewis ("Peoples of the Golden Triangle", Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1984) also attribute these silver knives (and, indeed, the similar silver swords) to ethnic Chinese and Shan craftsmen.

These weapons are probably valued as trade items, as they are evident in photographs of various other hilltribesmen, including the Kachin.

I've handled many of these, and the quality runs the spectrum. Some knives are spectacularly decorated with pierced and intricately carved ivory handles, and some are more pedestrian. The blades also vary greatly, with some sporting folded or laminate construction, and others demonstrating quite crude manufacturing.

Guy, in my opinion, your example is a fairly average example of the style, and I would agree with Ian's assessment of age. Cool knife.
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Old 19th March 2006, 02:38 PM   #4
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Many thanks to Ian and Andrew,

I was indeed under the impression that this dagger wasn't really meant for heavy duty, unless in dire circumstances, but more for appearances (good ones at that, I'd say, I find it very elegant in shape and design), and you confirm that.

Thanks also for the references, which I'll try and look up.

Guy
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Old 20th March 2006, 05:19 AM   #5
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Hi Guy
I have attached image of another type of Burmese knife/dha. This one is very solidly made and the hilt is a large piece of ivory. The decorative style is quite different although it comes from the same region. I suspect this is a little older than your piece but wiser folk may care to set me right on this. I have posted a picture of this on the board before.
cheers
David
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Old 20th March 2006, 03:15 PM   #6
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I agree, this one is older. Perhaps late 19th century, or early 20th.

I think these are a distinctly different form of knife. Generally, the quality of these are better than the "Shan" knives we were discussing earlier in the thread. These are distinct with the rounded, slightly down-tilted handles, single ferules and tapering scabbards.

I've seen knives of this form reliably attributed to Burma (Burmese writing along with silver koftgari on the blade). Enough that I'd suggest this form is Burman.

However, others, of substantially similar form, have been reported as Thai and, I believe the scabbards like your example demonstrate Chinese decorative motifs.

Perhaps Puff could comment on this?
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Old 20th March 2006, 04:57 PM   #7
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I guess it is a Shan...since the Thais (particularily northern Thai people) are the same people as the Shans. But that can be tricky because people around there particularily the Burmans and the Thai Ayutthayans were influenced by many cultures because of many tradings with foreign merchants. The blade design and scabard seem to be Siamese, but the decorative designs on the scabard and hilt could be Shans (I know very little about Shans arts), or perhaps even Burman or the hill tribes. Or It could be from the Mon people, also. The Mon were the people who set up any major civilization on the mainland Southeast Asia for the first time, and their arts and martial arts influenced the later Khmer empire, Siamese, Burman, Shans, Vietnamese, and so forth. The Mon fought with swords in a similar manner as the Siamese, by decapitating the opponents. In other words...the Mon civilization was the prototype for other mainland Southeast Asian civilization. The Mon themselves were mainly influenced by the Buddhist cultures in India and Ceylon. There are a lot of Mon people, who fled the opressive Burman government, living in Thailand, also.
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Old 20th March 2006, 06:18 PM   #8
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Which knife are you talking about?
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Old 20th March 2006, 08:07 PM   #9
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I'm talking about the first one.
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Old 21st March 2006, 06:19 AM   #10
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Here 's newly made Lanna style knife.
It 's belong to my friend, Pol.Capt. WabMa.
You may notice similar handle and scabbard design.




Dear Titus, It 's difficult to tell Myan, Mon, Tai or even Lanna art from this Scabbard. These people were mixed since Pugam (Pagan) period so there are many "borrow" stuff among them.
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Old 21st March 2006, 07:23 AM   #11
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Thank you, PUFF!
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Old 21st March 2006, 10:17 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PUFF
Here 's newly made Lanna style knife.
It 's belong to my friend, Pol.Capt. WabMa.
You may notice similar handle and scabbard design.




Dear Titus, It 's difficult to tell Myan, Mon, Tai or even Lanna art from this Scabbard. These people were mixed since Pugam (Pagan) period so there are many "borrow" stuff among them.


Did you know that the Chinese people who came over to Ayutthaya saw thai people eating fish sauce...which is basically preserved anchovies in salt. They thought it was pretty good, but a lot of Chinese were vegetarians, so instead they tried making it out of vegetables until they did it with soybeans. That's how they came up with soy-sauce. Also, the first bronze in the world was made in northeastern part of Thailand, and the Chinese thought it was a pretty good alloy, so they started the Chinese bronze age. The bronze from Asia was superior in quality than the Middle East because part of the metal use was tin...not arcenic, a very poisonous metal. Most of the tin are mainly found in mainland Southeast Asia. Furthermore, if you look all the intrecate designs and pattern on the wall, chairs, etc...particularily the Manchu dynasty...those were largely influenced by Siamese. When they came to Siam, particularily Ayutthaya, they see beautiful outlandish palaces, jewelries, decorative items, and so on, of the Siamese royalties, they thought they got to have some. If you've seen the movie "Suriyothai", you'd know what I'm talking about!
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Old 21st March 2006, 03:11 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PUFF
Here 's newly made Lanna style knife.
It 's belong to my friend, Pol.Capt. WabMa.
You may notice similar handle and scabbard design.



Nice knife! Is that your work? (And if not, when will we see some? ).

I do note some superficial similarities between this and drdavid's knife. However, the tapering scabbard and down-turning handle are well known to this type of knife. Have you seen any similar from Thailand?
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Old 24th March 2006, 05:27 AM   #14
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The knife 's not my work. I 'm currently practicing japanese stuff .

There are some Siamese knives with downward hilt and similar blade (Ayuthaya period). But I could not find picture for that knife.

Here 's another design called "Meed Hnep". The knife 's modern made (not myself ). It has downward hilt but different style and scabbard.


Last edited by PUFF : 24th March 2006 at 06:12 AM.
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Old 24th March 2006, 12:50 PM   #15
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Thanks PUFF.

The meed hnep is certainly a familiar (recent) Thai style, but I'm wondering how far back that blade profile goes. Any ideas?

Also, I think there is a Thai military knife with much the same profile issued not long ago. Is that correct?

Ian.
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Old 24th March 2006, 01:13 PM   #16
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I just wanted to join in with this one especially as PUFF has put a name to it.
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Old 24th March 2006, 02:04 PM   #17
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Would this also be a meed hnep?

Photo and knife courtesy of Oriental Arms.
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Old 25th March 2006, 03:31 AM   #18
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I like the blade Andrew! The blade doesn't curve as much...which makes it much easier to use...like the original Mesadonian. Instead, it curves more at the handle to give it more cutting ability. Nice piece they got there!
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Old 26th March 2006, 09:01 AM   #19
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"Meed Hnep" literally means "utility knife". "Hnep" = v. slip in place, which describes the way people carry their knife in their waist sash. A typical modern Meed Hnep has a wide belly (3-4") and then heavily recurved to a narrower waist (1.5-2"). They usually have only simple wooden hilt and ferrule, no butt cap. The older one may have different design. I would like to put pictures here but it 's going to be off topic. Better spread this virus in a new thread.

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Old 29th March 2006, 06:09 AM   #20
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I can see why it has a wider head. Not only do they make vicous wound...the force is concentrated more there when cutting. I guess much like an axe.
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Old 22nd May 2006, 05:00 PM   #21
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Puff, what do you make of this one. 26 cm blade, elegant and comfortable in the hand.
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Old 22nd May 2006, 07:26 PM   #22
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These pictures of the brass work compered to that of a dha are quite interesting, hinting of a regional center of manufacture? Could this form also be found in Burma? I think this knife is from the late 1930s.
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Old 22nd May 2006, 08:15 PM   #23
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What is going on here? could the spread of this form of knife be quite extensive? up to north western areas?
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Last edited by Tim Simmons : 22nd May 2006 at 08:19 PM. Reason: wrong direction
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Old 22nd May 2006, 09:22 PM   #24
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Sword/knife manufacture has historically been a centralized industry in Burma/Thailand/Yunnan, with dominant manufacturing centers exporting their blades (mounted or unmounted) throughout the area. There was always a village industry, but this produced cruder blades, or focused on repair. Such smiths were often part time (at least in Burma according turn of the century English sources), and worked on everything from dha to cook pots.

I would expect that in recent times it has become even more so.
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