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Jim McDougall 16th April 2021 01:08 AM

Burmese ? dha
3 Attachment(s)
I have had this dha around for years but little info, so any guys of the 'dha-fia' out there, I need some help....Ian???
Not handy at moment so no measurements, but the motif and markings are interesting. Is the squared scabbard tip Chinese influence?

Ian 16th April 2021 02:36 AM

Hi Jim,

That's a nice Shan dha and scabbard. The silverwork on the hilt and scabbard are typical Shan work. The hilt is a standard, three-part Burmese arrangement (ferrule-grip-ferrule), with the usual flanges at either end of the hilt. A similar shape appears at the tip of the scabbard. Overall, this style of dha is perhaps the easiest to identify among the dha/daab of mainland SE Asia.

The blade is a bit unusual in that it has two circular, stamped designs that are more commonly seen on blades coming from N. Thailand or southern Yunnan in the post-WWII period. For example, they are seen on some Vietnam-era bring backs. I'm not sure what those marks represent but they are probably either a maker's mark or a regional stamp. It's possible the blade was made by a Husa smith from the Achang area of southern Yunnan. The Husa are renowned sword makers who are culturally (but not ethnically) linked with the Shan.

From the materials used on the scabbard, I would say your sword is WWII-era or a little later. The quality of the blade and its tempering may give a clue to a more precise age--better quality usually being older.

Ian 16th April 2021 03:11 AM


Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... Is the squared scabbard tip Chinese influence?

Simple question, but not simple to answer. :(

The origin of the Shan has been debated. Consensus seems to now be that they started in central/northern China, and were driven south by more powerful Chinese groups about a thousand years ago, finally settling in what is now eastern/southern Burma, northern Thailand, adjacent areas of Laos and southern Yunnan. Over time they expanded this area, notably into northern Burma. Ethnically, the Shan are related to other Tai/Dai peoples of the region, notably the Thai and Lao. Thus, although originally from China and having many cultural similarities to the Chinese, those living in southern Yunnan are considered by the Chinese Government to be an ethnic minority and therefore not truly Chinese.

The Husa people whom I mentioned in my previous reply are originally ethnic Chinese. It is said that they were likely remnants of a Ming Army in the 14th century that was sent to quell troublesome tribal groups in southern Yunnan, and some stayed behind when the army returned north. These soldiers intermarried with locals but retained much of their Chinese culture. They were particularly good sword makers and brought Chinese forging techniques, including the use of inserted hardened edges, to the local smiths. Since that time they have specialized in iron and steel, and are known for the high quality of their steel tools and weapons. Over the centuries they have aligned themselves with the Shan for political reasons, and live within the areas dominated by the Shan.

Back to your question, Jim. Does the flanged toe of the scabbard reflect Chinese influence? Probably, to some degree, I think it does. The Shan are a partly Sinocized culture, although a long way from the center of Chinese culture. For example, they have retained a semblance of Chinese dress for formal occasions and their leaders have been called mandarins.

Like so much in th human melting pot of SE Asia, it is hard for an outsider to really know what is happening. Added to which is the remoteness of much of the Shan territories. The Golden Triangle, well known for its opium growing, is located within Shan territory, and the Shan have long been involved with opium trading. It's not the safest part of the world for a westerner to visit.

Jim McDougall 16th April 2021 03:59 AM

Ian, thank you so very much for such a quick and incredibly detailed answer !!!
I knew you were 'dha' man for knowledge on these :)
I must admit that while I have studied weapons most of my life, certain areas have eluded me, and SE Asia is one. Many years back I tried to delve into the arcane world of the dha, but quite honestly, it seems there was very little on them in specific. Mostly there were cursory notes here and there among other arms literature but nothing definitive.
I think Carter Rila wrote a brief article about a zillion years ago, but that was it.

As I say, I've had this and I think two others for about 20 yrs but never went further into their history. It means a lot to have this kind of explanation, and fascinating history on the Shan as well. You have not only educated me on this example, but piqued my interest in this field.
Again, thank you for your fantastic response!

Very best,

Ian 16th April 2021 05:09 AM

You are most welcome Jim!

There are people around with far more detailed knowledge than I have. Unfortunately, they don't post here. Perhaps they visit anonymously from time to time.

SE Asia, mainland and the islands, can be a complex and difficult area for the sword collector, and one where indigenous knowledge is often guarded closely. No matter if the religious flavor be Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist, there is a strong "folk" element to the local beliefs, with magic and animal spirits being incorporated into more traditional religious doctrines.

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