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Old 10th September 2020, 09:00 AM   #1
Peter Dekker
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Default Kachin dha revisited

The recent days I was researching a "Kachin dha" I had. I always found it curious how some people call it "Naga dha" instead. A glance through old colonial writing reveals that these were consistently called "linkin dha" in the past and that neither Kachin nor the Naga produced them.

Instead they were produced by a people in the north as one of their main export products, catering to Kachins (especially the Jingpo), the Kampti Shan, Nung, and other groups.

Some period descriptions:

"The dha with the Chingpaw, as with the Burman and the Shan, is a national weapon. At the hilt the blade is an inch and a half in width, widening to about two and a half inches at the truncated tip. The back is slightly curved. It is half sheathed in wood and slung over the right shoulder by a rattan ring. In the case of well-to-do people or warriors, this rattan sling is sometimes adorned with cloth and embroidery, or with the claws or teeth of wild animals. It hangs with the hilt in front ready to the hand. This is the proper shape of the Linkin or Chingpaw dha.

Among the Kachins who have pushed farthest south there are other types, taken from their Shan or other neighbours, but the characteristic half-sheath is almost always retained.

East of Bhamo Mr. George says the Kachins use a long straight sword, about two and a half feet long, which they call ntugaht.

These, with the more orthodox Linkin are said to be manufactured mostly by the Tareng, the Nga-chang, and possibly also the Khunnongs. Like the wild Wa the average Chingpaw cannot or does not make his own dha.

-Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, Part I Volume I, 1901

Adventurer and tea planter Errol Grey saw such dha being produced in northern Kachin in 1885:

"Mr. Errol Grey speaks of meeting Turengs on his way to the country of the Khumongs, above latitude 27 15' and in about longitude 97 30'. The Turengs, he says, are the great blacksmiths of that neighbourhood, just as the Ngachang are for the country round Hotha and Latha. They make all the dhas and daggers worn by the Singpho and the Hkamti Shans, and these under the name of Hkampti dhas form one of the chief articles of trade between the Hkamti valley and Assam.

The iron is found in the hills forming the boundary between the Turengs and the Khumongs.

It is of excellent quality and the knives are very durable.

The dhas are made in four varieties, the streaked, the indented, the white,

and the black dhas"

-Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, Part I Volume I, 1900

The exact location Errol Grey is referring to is here on Google maps.

Now this begs two questions;
1. Where does the name linkin dha come from?
2. Who are these Turengs that Errol Grey is talking about? I'm having a hard time pinpointing the modern name for these people. But also in old British colonial writings, like the 1911 Census of Burma, they do not appear.


For reference, I add a photo of such a dha from the Metropolitan Museum collection.


EDIT: A hint, perhaps: "There are various languages that have gone by the name Taliang/Trieng, which means 'headhunters" - WikipediaWikipedia: Tariang Language
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Old 10th September 2020, 07:14 PM   #2
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Not likely to help but there is a Linkin or Lin Kin village somewhere on the west side of Inle lake, Nyaungshwe Township. I can't find the exact coords.
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Old 11th September 2020, 03:49 AM   #3
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Lightbulb Who made Kachin dao--one answer


I have found the various Gazetteers to be fun reading but much of what they contain was collected by bureaucrats and "local informants" who were not necessarily the most reliable or best informed individuals. Thus, the names they provide for tribal/ethnic groups are often poor transliterations of the local names. It becomes hard to identify who they are talking about, and that's what I think is happening here. Burma was some distance from the Colonial administrative headquarters in Delhi and I suspect that the greater rigor of reporting found in the Indian Gazetteers may not have carried over to the Burmese reporting. I have similar issues with some of the reports coming from the NE Indian frontier, including Assam and its neighbors.

One book on the Kachin that I have found reasonably thorough in its approach (although racist and condescending) is The Kachins: Their Customs and Traditions by O. Hanson (1913). Hanson attempts to trace the origins of the Kachin geographically and how the Kachin name arose. The Kachin call themselves Jingphaw in Burma (Singphaw in Assam), and have no knowledge of the origin of the word "Kachin" other than it appears to be a Burmese term applied to them. Hanson speculates on its origins from Chinese and Burmese sources.

The book is quite detailed in its descriptions of culture and customs of the Kachin. There is relatively little, however, about the Kachin dao. I did find these passages helpful:
The only articles common to the men of today [i.e., in 1913] is the long, useful sword and the equally indispensable bag or haversack. No man is ever seen without these necessities. The true Kachin sword is now rarely seen south of Myitkyina and Mogaung. The Shan article is in common use. ... (p. 47)

...All his hardware comes from the Chinese or Shans, except that some of the Hkahkus make, what may be called, the genuine Kachin blades. These are about eighteen inches long, broadening from the handle outward. They are never pointed, as is the Shan dha. There are at least four varieties, of which one with clear, wavy streaks of steel running down the blade, is the most valuable and appreciated. This sword was carried by chiefs and persons of importance. They are now hardly ever seen south of Myitkyina and Mogaung, while only a few years ago they were not uncommon south of Bhamo. The Shan product is cheaper, if not so durable, and the Hkahkus do not come south, as they formerly did, to dispose of their wares. ... (p. 72)
As to who the Hkahkus were, Hanson is quite specific:
... As it often happens that the conquerors are intellectually conquered by their subjects, so too it has happened here. The Kachins that remained on the west side of the Irrawaddy developed localisms in their speech, and many of them, as in the Hukong and Kamhti valley, became strongly influenced by the Shans as to customs and religion. ... This is especially true of the Assam Kachins and those of the Hukong. The more isolated communities in the hills also developed some special characteristics and peculiarities in dialect. Those along the west bank of the Irrawaddy in time became known as the Hkahku, that is, the "up-river people." Their dialect differs somewhat from ordinary Kachin (Jingphaw), but they are true Kachins and adhere strictly to the ancestral customs and traditions. ... (p.24) (underlining is mine)
According to Hanson, the traditional Kachin dao was made primarily by the Hkahku, a true Kachin tribal group, who were influenced by Shan culture. Presumably they learned some of their metalworking skills also from the Shan, but produced distinctly different swords.

Last edited by Ian; 11th September 2020 at 04:09 AM. Reason: Spelling
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Old 11th September 2020, 01:39 PM   #4
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Here is an old thread that discussed the origin of the Kachin dao also.
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Old 11th September 2020, 04:00 PM   #5
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A couple of older images, surely they all are already posted somewhere in the forum...

Picture with three guys - Kachin, Felice Beato, around 1880.
Picture with two guys - Shan, collection Fritz Noetling, around 1890
Picture with a whole bunch of guys - Shan, photographer not known, around 1880
Picture with well armed single guy - Shan, Felice beato, around 1880
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Old 11th September 2020, 05:22 PM   #6
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Hi Gustav,

Nice old pictures. Some of the attributions are a little off the mark.

The first one shows two men in Kachin attire (wearing traditional Kachin dao), while the Kachin man in the foreground is dressed as a Shan and holds a Shan dha.

The second shows a Kachin man (standing) and his slave (crouching) holding his long pipe--note the difference in physiognomy between the Kachin and his Shan(?) slave.

The third shows a band of daqoits or bandits, all dressed as Shan (identified by their clothes and head dress). Note the old flintlock or matchlock musket (hard to tell what it is). There are numerous Shan dha but the man on the left wears a Kachin dao.

The last is a studio portrait of a Shan man in traditional attire, including the big floppy hat worn over the turban. He wears a dha lwe (sword) and dha hmyuang (knife).

Last edited by Ian; 11th September 2020 at 05:51 PM.
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