Jambiahs: A durable tradition [Archives:2006/952/Last Page]

June 5 2006
Jambiahs are sold in many shops throughout Yemen.
Jambiahs are sold in many shops throughout Yemen.
Saddam Al-Ashmouri
“The jambiah is a distinguishing feature of the Yemeni uniform and I don't think there is Yemeni man who does not have a Jambiah”, said Awad Al-Samhi, a Jambiah maker. “The jambiah is important for Yemenis, it is part of our heritage, and Yemenis have been wearing it for hundreds of years. The tradition of making Jambiahs have come down through generation after generation. I do not think that the Yemeni people will give up wearing jambiahs as these are part of their public customs.”


The jambiah is a dagger-like device and it is usually 5 to 10 cm wide and 15 to 30 cm long. It is made of special types of iron and it is linked to a handle called the head “al-Raas” which is made of rhino-horn and it is also studded with two small gold circles. The al-Raas gives the jambiah its distinguishing shape that can differ from one location to another and most of the time precious handles are confined to older jambiahs.

The sheath (Al-Aseeb)

Abdu Al-Wusabi, one of those crafting jambiahs in the old city of Sana'a, when asked about the sheaths for jambiahs explains that “the sheaths are different from one area to another in regards to shape and embroidery. The sheaths are made of a special wood called 'Al-Tanb' and it is sawed into two equal pieces and the lower part is curved to the right in order to give a good appearance to the jambiah. Recently, different sheaths have been added, some made from leather and some are made of leather threads coated with special painting, while others are covered with gold or silver.”

When asked about the belt (Al-Hizam), Al-Wusabi said, “The jambiah's belt is made of leather covered by embroidered and colored cloth together with special clothes”. “A belt embroidered by hand will cost more than one embroidered by machine”, he added.

Types of jambiahs and their prices

“There are different types of jambiahs such as Al-Qabeth, Al-Basali, Al-Zaraf, Al-Zaraf heart (qalb), Asadi, Qalb Alasadi and Saifani.” said Awad Al-Samhi. “The prices of jambiahs differ in accordance with quality, shape, age. We can find jambiah of 10,000 YR and another one with 100,000, while another one can reach 1,000,000. Some other types of jambiahs may also reach 15,000,000 or even 20,000,000 as those owned by some Sheikhs and dignitaries in different Yemeni locations.” Added Awad, “This shows that the jambiah has a special status for Yemeni, particularly in tribal areas as it is part of their custom to consider those one who do not wear jambiah to be of less influence and status. About wearing and using jambiah, we are told by Ahmed Al-Ausimi a dignitary from a tribal area, that “jambiah is a supplement to man and there are none but wears jambiah only those presummed mad or impaired. The one who doesn't wear a jambiah is called 'Naked' and he is likened to a woman. It is considered a a shame for someone to attend a tribal occasion without jambiah.”

Regarding the use of jambiahs, Al-Ausimi says, “the jambiah was originally the weapon by which a person could protect himself, later it became part of his personal adornment and weaponry. Problems are also solved by jambiahs as the two opponent parties give their jambiahs to sheikhs as evidence that they are content with his judgment. It can also be used by sheikhs as a mark of asking the other party to join for a judgment.” He adds, “jambiahs are also used in the Yemeni public dancing 'Al-Bara' as dancers hold the head of their jambiahs and with different movements of jambiah to the left and right the spectators are shown the jambiahs and it is a way of pride in regards to a jambiah's age and price.” Awad concludes by saying, “jambiah can be used to obtain anothers' help and subsidiary when somebody is wronged or objects to a big problem. The person will come to those intended to help and breaks his Jihaz 'jambiah sheath' before them and they will accept his demand whatever it is.”

The jambiah has been and still remains a distinctive Yemeni tradition over the years and ages. Wearing jambiahs was prevalent in the north of Yemen and to a lesser degree in some areas in the South before Yemen's Unification. After rhinoceros hunting was banned, the producers of jambiahs resorted to ivory, marble, fish-bones and wood, thus causing their prices to decrease making it possible for anyone to own a jambiah. Tourists are keen to buy a jambiah as a kind of memento to take back home.