Southern daggers (janbyah)

Country: Saudi Arabia

The janbyah is a curved double-edged dagger with a spine along the length of the blade. It can be found in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. There are three main designs for the southern daggers in the Arabian Peninsula and all three can be found: the Yemenite, the Hadrami and the Omani.

The southern dagger is a weapon, but in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, it is also a mark of status, a symbol of masculinity, and an ornament for men instead of jewellery. The value of the dagger is determined by the materials used, especially on the handle. There is ornamentation in the belt and sheath and the blade type. And because of this tradition, the craft has a healthy market in the south. However, it is mostly—if not always—a collector’s item in the other parts of Saudi Arabia. Mostly it is only worn as for ceremonial purposes such as in alardhah, which is the traditional sword dance.

The traditional method of smelting does not exist anymore, so spring steel is used for the blade. Gold, silver and copper is used to ornament the handle and sheath. Horn, wood and plastic is used to make the handle. Wood is used as the core of the sheath while leather, steel, copper, silver and gold could be used and the outer layer. The belt is made out of many materials, including leather. Cloth (largely cotton) and silver, gold and cotton threads are used for the embroidery.

The process begins with forging the blade. The handle is carved using hand tools (rasps, files and sanding paper) and in the case of plastic, it is melted and poured into moulds. The blade is then ornamented depending on the type of the dagger intended. It is then inserted, pinned and glued. The sheath and belt are made and ornamented. Among the final touches, the sheath is attached to the belt.