History of Yemeni jambia [Archives:2005/866/Culture]

August 8 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Globalization couldn't deprive the Yemenis of their Jambia. It is considered as a symbol for the Yemenis.

History of the jambia.

One needs to know what a Jambia is before knowing its history. It is a name given by the Yemenis to a sort of a twisted dagger. It is worn around the waist in many cases towards the side and hence the name Jambia from “jamb” which means in Arabic side.

There are several theories about the origin of the Jambia. There are historical facts, concerning the existence of the Jambia revealling that it used to be worn at Sheban times, in the Himiarite kingdom. They take the statue of the Sheban king (Madi Karb 500 bc ) as proof. This statue, which was discovered by an American mission in Marib in the 1950s, was found to be wearing a Jambia.

The president has lately given the national museum a present of bronze pieces that go back to the Himirite era. These pieces were used for ornamenting Jambia sheaths. Researchers depend on the still on going habit of ornamenting the handles of the Jambia with old Himirite golden coins.

Structure and make

Jambias constitute of a handle, the blade and the sheath in which the blade is put. It is made of a certain sort of wood, to hold the blade that is fixed to the waist in a neat way. The belt that holds the Jambia is made of tanned leather, or some thick cloth. There are specialized markets and handicraft markets that decorate it with golden wires.

The Jambia handle often tells of the social status of the man who wears it. They are made of the African rehnsorus's horn, ivory and also (Almoswae) horn. A kilo of this often costs $1500. The manufacturers receive this through smugglers, due to the international ban on this stuff. This contributed to the retreat in the manufacturing of valuable Jambias. The Rehnorus horn is considered to be the most precious. The Jambias value increases as it acquires modern and old qualities.

Qualities of Jambia in Yemen

The most famous sort of the Jambia is that which has a “saifani” handle. It has a dim yellowish luster. When it is clearer, it turns into a yellow color. This is called saifani heart.

Some of the saifani handles are called “Asadi”, when they turn into greenish yellow. When the handle becomes Whitish yellow, it is called Zaraf. There is also Albasali (onionish) kind whose color looks like white onion.

The saifani Jambia is often worn by dignitary persons; among them are the Hashimites (descendants of the prophet – mpboh), the judges, famous merchants and businessmen. Some of these Jambias cost about Yr 70 millions, like that of sheikh Al-Shaif, which goes back to Imam Yahia Hameed Aldeen. The ordinary Jambias cost about Yr 10 – 50 thousands.

Jambia and the Yemeni culture

Jambias are often inherited, because of their symbolic social meaning. It is a sign of loyalty to tribal norms and social prestige. The social importance of the Jambia led the Yemenis to make a lot of poems that describe the Jambia.

When individual and tribal disputes break out, the Jambia is used as a means of arbitration, which is called in Yemen Alfara'a (reconciliation) and Adl (justice).

He who abandons his Jambia, whatever the conditions are, would be defamed by his peers and acquaintances. The Jambia should not come out of its sheath except in extreme cases. Or as it is used in the famous Yemeni (bara'a) dance.

Officials and government employees are forbidden to wear their Jambias during the working hours. The judges, ulma MPs, and sheikhs are exempted. Prominent sheikhs are often keen to put on their Jambias. Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussien Al-Ahmar, the speaker of the parliament is often keen to put on his Jambia even if he is going abroad.