The Jambiya: Yemeni icon and status symbol

Published on 24 June 2014 in Photo Essay
Ezzaddin Al-Zain (author)

Ezzaddin Al-Zain


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Jambiyas are traditional Arabian daggers that are still popularly worn in Yemen. The Yemeni jambiya is typically a curved, thick, double-edged blade. The sheath is normally tucked into a thick embroidered belt. In Yemen, the styles of jambiyas differ remarkably from region to region.

The jambiya is worn by men as a token of their manhood and as a symbol of their wealth and social status. It is often gifted by fathers to their sons at the end of Ramadan to symbolize the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The price of jambiyas can vary from a few dollars to up to $1 million. Naji Abdulaziz Al-Shaef, the sheikh of the Bakil tribe, possesses a jambiya estimated at $1 million. His jambiya is hundreds of years old and was once owned by Imam Ahmed Hamid Al-Din, who ruled Yemen from 1948 to 1962, the year of his death.    

The worth of the dagger is usually determined by its handles—the most expensive jambiyas containing handles made out of rhino horn. Although in the 1970s and 1980s rhino horns were widely used for the handles of jambiyas, the Yemeni government has since put a ban on the rhino horn trade in compliance with international laws. This has led to a dramatic decline in the demand for rhino horn in the country, and nowadays jambiya makers use bone as an alternative to horn.

 

Rhino horn from East Africa was commonly used in the production of jambiya handles in the 1970s and 1980s‭. ‬However‭, ‬international pressures and a ban on rhino horn imposed by the Yemeni government has greatly reduced the demand for rhino horn in Yemen

Rhino horn from East Africa was commonly used in the production of jambiya handles in the 1970s and 1980s‭. ‬However‭, ‬international pressures and a ban on rhino horn imposed by the Yemeni government has greatly reduced the demand for rhino horn in Yemen

Abu Mohammad‭, ‬a jambiya maker‭, ‬took over the profession from his predecessors‭. ‬His income relies solely on this business‭. ‬Although there is little practical use for the daggers these days‭, ‬they are nevertheless highly popular‭, ‬as any trip thro

Abu Mohammad‭, ‬a jambiya maker‭, ‬took over the profession from his predecessors‭. ‬His income relies solely on this business‭. ‬Although there is little practical use for the daggers these days‭, ‬they are nevertheless highly popular‭, ‬as any trip thro

 

The Jambiya trade is highly specialized‭. ‬Here‭, ‬at one of the oldest jambiya workshops‭, ‬the owner acts as a consultant to those seeking advice on the value of their jambiyas‭. ‬

The Jambiya trade is highly specialized‭. ‬Here‭, ‬at one of the oldest jambiya workshops‭, ‬the owner acts as a consultant to those seeking advice on the value of their jambiyas‭. ‬

 

Jambiyas are often characterized by intricate metallic patterns and inlays‭. ‬Here‭, ‬small holes are drilled into jambiya handles in order to attach decorative silver and copper buttons‭.‬

Jambiyas are often characterized by intricate metallic patterns and inlays‭. ‬Here‭, ‬small holes are drilled into jambiya handles in order to attach decorative silver and copper buttons‭.‬

 

A lot of time and effort goes into designing the thick decorative jambiya belts‭. ‬Artisans often spend weeks working on the belts‭, ‬embroidering them with gold threads‭. ‬In the shops the price of the belts ranges from‭ $‬18‭ ‬to‭ $‬325‭. ‬Often gold th

A lot of time and effort goes into designing the thick decorative jambiya belts‭. ‬Artisans often spend weeks working on the belts‭, ‬embroidering them with gold threads‭. ‬In the shops the price of the belts ranges from‭ $‬18‭ ‬to‭ $‬325‭. ‬Often gold th

 

Ali Bin Ali sources jambiyas from different regions around Yemen and sells them to local shops‭. ‬Some jambiyas are collectors‭' ‬items that can fetch high prices abroad‭.

Ali Bin Ali sources jambiyas from different regions around Yemen and sells them to local shops‭. ‬Some jambiyas are collectors‭' ‬items that can fetch high prices abroad‭.

 

There are various types of jambiyas and their designs differ according to the region where they were made‭. ‬Jambiyas made in Sana'a tend to have black handles and are decorated with brown and red colors‭. ‬In the coastal areas‭, ‬such as Hodeida‭, ‬jambi

There are various types of jambiyas and their designs differ according to the region where they were made‭. ‬Jambiyas made in Sana'a tend to have black handles and are decorated with brown and red colors‭. ‬In the coastal areas‭, ‬such as Hodeida‭, ‬jambi