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Old 23rd September 2021, 05:27 PM   #1
Iain
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Default S.E. Asian katana

Some may enjoy seeing this, I'm still working to pin down exactly where its from, which may prove difficult as this overall form diffused widely with the Japanese trading and mercenary presence in the region since the 16th and 17th centuries, it is certainly an interesting piece and perhaps from Vietnam or coastal Cambodia. 84cm overall with a nearly 60cm blade.
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Old 23rd September 2021, 08:38 PM   #2
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Overall presentation, curve of the blade and tang/grip looks like a Tachi rather than a Katana. It's going to be fun for you to figure out where it actually came from &/or who used it, or how old it is.
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Old 24th September 2021, 03:01 AM   #3
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It might be worth the time to have a look at Quaritch Wales -- "Ancient South East Asian Warfare".

I seem to recall that in that he mentions existence of a Japanese sword manufacturing industry in Thailand.
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Old 24th September 2021, 05:03 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain View Post
it is certainly an interesting piece and perhaps from Vietnam or coastal Cambodia. 84cm overall with a nearly 60cm blade.
I would be interested to hear what clues may point to this area.
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Old 24th September 2021, 05:27 AM   #5
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Maybe one could find such information here:
http://japaneseswordmuseumthailand.com/
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Old 24th September 2021, 08:10 AM   #6
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Hi Iain,

That's a very lovely and interesting sword. It is obviously influenced by Japanese style but it is, primarily, a very big dha/daab. The hilt with its plain thread-wrapped grip covered with black resin, and the scabbard similarly covered with black resin, point to this being a weapon and not a sword for display or ceremonial purposes. Such large swords were typically wielded by powerful warriors in the vanguard of an attack, cutting down man and beast.

What gives this sword a Japanese flavor is the habaki-like structure at the base of a pierced circular guard (tsuba). It is possible to find similar Japanese influence in swords of Thailand and Vietnam, but I'm less certain about Cambodia, Laos, or Burma.

As you point out, there has been a Japanese presence in Thailand for many centuries, including the employment of Japanese mercenaries. I had a Thai student 40 years ago whose family had been powerful landowners in Thailand for centuries. He told me that his great-great-grandfather employed two Japanese warriors as bodyguards in the mid-19th C.

Given the longstanding links to Japanese martial ways, I think Thailand is the most likely source for your sword, although Vietnam is certainly a possibility. Philip Tom could probably provide more information regarding Vietnam and Japanese influence.

I think your sword is quite old, and probably from the 18th C. Hard to date these, as we have discussed before.
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Old 24th September 2021, 10:42 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey View Post
It might be worth the time to have a look at Quaritch Wales -- "Ancient South East Asian Warfare".

I seem to recall that in that he mentions existence of a Japanese sword manufacturing industry in Thailand.
Thanks Alan, there was a strong presence in the Ayutthaya period in Thailand as well as populations in Malaysia, the Philippines, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam to name a few. Actually the well known tourist town of Hoi An in Vietnam is a good example, visited by red seal ships, it had a Japanese settlement and the bridge joining the two parts of the town can still be seen today. I highly recommend "The Lost Samurai: Japanese mercenaries in South-East Asia 1593-1688" by Stephen Turnbull to anyone interested in the period and topic.
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Old 24th September 2021, 10:55 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffS View Post
I would be interested to hear what clues may point to this area.
Hi Jeff,

There are several reasons, but I'll elaborate a little more in response to Ian's post.


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Hi Iain,

That's a very lovely and interesting sword. It is obviously influenced by Japanese style but it is, primarily, a very big dha/daab. The hilt with its plain thread-wrapped grip covered with black resin, and the scabbard similarly covered with black resin, point to this being a weapon and not a sword for display or ceremonial purposes. Such large swords were typically wielded by powerful warriors in the vanguard of an attack, cutting down man and beast.

What gives this sword a Japanese flavor is the habaki-like structure at the base of a pierced circular guard (tsuba). It is possible to find similar Japanese influence in swords of Thailand and Vietnam, but I'm less certain about Cambodia, Laos, or Burma.

As you point out, there has been a Japanese presence in Thailand for many centuries, including the employment of Japanese mercenaries. I had a Thai student 40 years ago whose family had been powerful landowners in Thailand for centuries. He told me that his great-great-grandfather employed two Japanese warriors as bodyguards in the mid-19th C.

Given the longstanding links to Japanese martial ways, I think Thailand is the most likely source for your sword, although Vietnam is certainly a possibility. Philip Tom could probably provide more information regarding Vietnam and Japanese influence.

I think your sword is quite old, and probably from the 18th C. Hard to date these, as we have discussed before.
Hi Ian, the Thai examples are a little different, mine uses a two part wooden hilt, similar to Japanese construction methods, this is also seen in how the scabbard is constructed with a pin at the tip and 'nub' for the cord binding to hold it. Most Thai examples I've seen that are similar also lack the seppa on both sides of the guard or they are integrated with the tsuba.

The tsuba style itself is a fairly generic pattern that I have seen across both Thai and Viet swords so that sadly tells us very little. Cambodian swords are difficult to research but a friend did manage to find the attached illustration. I have also seen similar reproductions from modern smiths there.

None of that is of course conclusive and it could still be Thai, but I wouldn't lean that direction for an identification.

Regarding age, always hard to estimate but it is comparable to other swords of that period I own that I am more sure about the dating.
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Old 24th September 2021, 05:11 PM   #9
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It's also in the realm of consideration to include Korean origins.
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Old 24th September 2021, 05:27 PM   #10
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It's also in the realm of consideration to include Korean origins.
Possible but I feel the style of the hilt wrap and scabbard doesn't point that way. But I'm not all that familiar with Korean arms.
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Old 24th September 2021, 09:37 PM   #11
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AFAIK, Koreans firmly riveted their handles to the tangs. Is there a rivet? If you can punch it thru and draw the blade out, it should not be Korean.

Habaki is not necessrily Japanese. Nomads of the 8 century down to The Mongols of 13 century all had habaki ( tunku) on their sabers. KublaiKhan invaded SE Asia, includind Burma, Thailand , Yunnan and Vietnam ( but not Cambodia). Could have planted the idea there. Mongols did it in Afghanistan and N. India.
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Old 24th September 2021, 10:51 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Iain
Hi Ian, the Thai examples are a little different, mine uses a two part wooden hilt, similar to Japanese construction methods, this is also seen in how the scabbard is constructed with a pin at the tip and 'nub' for the cord binding to hold it. Most Thai examples I've seen that are similar also lack the seppa on both sides of the guard or they are integrated with the tsuba.
Hi Iain, I agree that the hilt is unusual for "Thai-nipponized" swords and your observation about seppa fit with my experience too. These features could point to a Vietnamese origin.

The hilt, in particular, is unusual. The two wooden "scales" are odd. It's a little difficult to tell from the pictures, but it seems to have a round cross-section in its lower two-thirds and then flattens into a rounded-off rectangular shape towards the end. I've not seen this before—it's been either round throughout (like other dha/daab) or elliptical throughout (like Japanese swords).

Thoughts?

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Old 25th September 2021, 10:34 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by ariel View Post
AFAIK, Koreans firmly riveted their handles to the tangs. Is there a rivet? If you can punch it thru and draw the blade out, it should not be Korean.

Habaki is not necessrily Japanese. Nomads of the 8 century down to The Mongols of 13 century all had habaki ( tunku) on their sabers. KublaiKhan invaded SE Asia, includind Burma, Thailand , Yunnan and Vietnam ( but not Cambodia). Could have planted the idea there. Mongols did it in Afghanistan and N. India.
Unfortunately with the lacquer in place its impossible to tell if there's a rivet or a peg. This type of lacquer over cord is very hard.
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Old 25th September 2021, 10:49 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian View Post
Hi Iain, I agree that the hilt is unusual for "Thai-nipponized" swords and your observation about seppa fit with my experience too. These features could point to a Vietnamese origin.

The hilt, in particular, is unusual. The two wooden "scales" are odd. It's a little difficult to tell from the pictures, but it seems to have a round cross-section in its lower two-thirds and then flattens into a rounded-off rectangular shape towards the end. I've not seen this before—it's been either round throughout (like other dha/daab) or elliptical throughout (like Japanese swords).

Thoughts?
Hi Ian, I'm attaching a few pics so others can see some Thai examples.

The cross section of the hilt is somewhat more rounded by the guard but generally rectangular.

A feature that is also worth discussing is the round ferrule under the guard, this is not a typical form, usually this would be oval to match the handle but this one is quite bulbous. However, this is a feature seen on some Vietnamese pieces, notably the pieces Cornelis Tromp acquired and which are now in the Rijks museum in Amsterdam. I believe both Peter Dekker and Philip Tom examined these and noted the unusual design.
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Old 27th September 2021, 12:23 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Rick View Post
Maybe one could find such information here:
http://japaneseswordmuseumthailand.com/
thanks for that link, Rick!
that there is my new passion
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Old 27th September 2021, 01:52 AM   #16
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Iain,

Thanks for showing these Thai-Japanese hybrids. If I recall correctly, some of these have been attributed to the late Ayutthaya/early Rattanakosin period. There are some elegant high end examples from Thai nobility that were posted here on the old UBB Forum (now defunct) and were attributed to that period.

The Rattanakosin period commenced in 1782, which is why I thought your sword may date from around that time (i.e., 18th C). The maximum zone of influence of Rattanakosin included the vassal states of Cambodia, Laos, Shan States, and the northern Malay states. It's possible that Japanese influence diffused through some of the major centers of this region as a result of Thai dominance.

Regards,

Ian
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Old 27th September 2021, 09:01 AM   #17
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Iain,

Thanks for showing these Thai-Japanese hybrids. If I recall correctly, some of these have been attributed to the late Ayutthaya/early Rattanakosin period. There are some elegant high end examples from Thai nobility that were posted here on the old UBB Forum (now defunct) and were attributed to that period.

The Rattanakosin period commenced in 1782, which is why I thought your sword may date from around that time (i.e., 18th C). The maximum zone of influence of Rattanakosin included the vassal states of Cambodia, Laos, Shan States, and the northern Malay states. It's possible that Japanese influence diffused through some of the major centers of this region as a result of Thai dominance.

Regards,

Ian
Hi Ian,

Yes, some of these are Ayutthaya period, some are later. Its important to keep in mind just how influential Japanese mercenaries were at the time, Yamada Nagamasa is perhaps the most famous example in the context of Ayutthaya, however other communities existed across the region including at Phnom Penh and Angkor (multiple Japanese inscriptions have been found there) and of course as I've already mentioned in Vietnam.

So the diffusion of this form as nothing really to do with Thai dominance and very much to do with the network of Japanese traders and ronin across the region in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Issues within Japan itself played a role and many of the Japanese were Christians, who faced increasing pressures at home. These communities then assimilated as there was not a sustained influx of Japanese later in the century.
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Old 28th September 2021, 10:15 PM   #18
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It's also in the realm of consideration to include Korean origins.
Details of design and workmanship don't give the impression of being Korean. Blades from Korea, made and mounted in the Japanese style (as on sabers such as the beolungeom have blades with decidedly Japanese characteristics such as the angular edge geometry of the kissaki and the shinogi ridges on each face. Stylistically, the guard and ferrule on this sword's hilt don't look Japanese-inspired at all. Southeast Asia is in my eyes the most likely point of origin.
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Old 28th September 2021, 10:21 PM   #19
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Iain, I think that your sword may likely be 18th cent. or maybe later Indochinese as opposed to Thai. The wedge-shaped blade cross-section, with single narrow fuller adjoining the spine, is commonly seen on Vietnamese sabers (guom) and also their Lao and Cambodian counterparts. The guard with radial openwork elements is quite Vietnamese in style, it echoes that on the hilts of 17th cent. two handed sabers from Vietnam, as exemplified by exceptional examples in the Met and the Hermitage.
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Old 29th September 2021, 12:48 PM   #20
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Iain, I think that your sword may likely be 18th cent. or maybe later Indochinese as opposed to Thai. The wedge-shaped blade cross-section, with single narrow fuller adjoining the spine, is commonly seen on Vietnamese sabers (guom) and also their Lao and Cambodian counterparts. The guard with radial openwork elements is quite Vietnamese in style, it echoes that on the hilts of 17th cent. two handed sabers from Vietnam, as exemplified by exceptional examples in the Met and the Hermitage.
Hi Philip, thanks for the comments, of course very much inline with my own thinking, the Hermitage example for the guard was also what came immediately to my mind as well when I decided to buy this one. The only difference between this and most Vietnamese work is that the blade finish is different, many Viet pieces have a rather distinctive almost "scrapped" finish on the blade that this one lacks, but that can be down to region or just age.
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Old 29th September 2021, 04:23 PM   #21
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The only difference between this and most Vietnamese work is that the blade finish is different, many Viet pieces have a rather distinctive almost "scrapped" finish on the blade that this one lacks, but that can be down to region or just age.
The rougher finish is typical of lower-class weapons of the 19th and early 20th cent., where standards of finish declined. Most of the weapons displaying this finish are simple knives or falchions of rustic character. The marks are from the hardened steel drawknives used to finish the surfaces.

On higher-grade weapons, and the surviving earlier pieces, the finish is much better, polished on stones.

As with the blades of southern India, it's hard to find older Vietnamese weapons in any sort of "polish", the humid tropical climate takes a toll on iron objects. A glance at your blade shows some irregularity in depth of the fuller which may indicate localized grinding and polish to remove previous corrosion. If the sword dates back to the 18th cent., who knows how many times it may have been cleaned, sharpened, or polished during its working life.
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Old 29th September 2021, 04:37 PM   #22
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The rougher finish is typical of lower-class weapons of the 19th and early 20th cent., where standards of finish declined. Most of the weapons displaying this finish are simple knives or falchions of rustic character. The marks are from the hardened steel drawknives used to finish the surfaces.

On higher-grade weapons, and the surviving earlier pieces, the finish is much better, polished on stones.

As with the blades of southern India, it's hard to find older Vietnamese weapons in any sort of "polish", the humid tropical climate takes a toll on iron objects. A glance at your blade shows some irregularity in depth of the fuller which may indicate localized grinding and polish to remove previous corrosion. If the sword dates back to the 18th cent., who knows how many times it may have been cleaned, sharpened, or polished during its working life.
Absolutely agree, my point was more that this is likely older than the typical Vietnamese blades we see that came back in colonial times of 19th century manufacture. The imperfections in the fuller look to me to be due to polishing as you mentioned but also likely something of an original imperfection as well. The piece overall seems to be something of a 'munitions grade' piece, although definitely made for use, rather than any sort of higher end status item, so the attention to finishing detail makes sense in this context.

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