It is rare to see a Yemeni man in public without a traditional dagger on his waist. While many would think of a dagger as simply a weapon, Yemenis consider it a necessary tool in a man’s daily life.
Some Yemenis are even willing to spend a large amount of money for a dagger. Tens of
thousands of dollars, and more. Sheikh Naji Ben Abdil Aziz al-Shayef, the head of the Yemeni Sheikhs, is said to have paid one million dollars to buy a dagger once owned by Emam Ahmad Hamid Eddine, the ruler of Yemen from 1948 to 1962.
The al-Azizi Family has been handcrafting and selling daggers for over a hundred years. The craft has been handed down through generations. The family owns the most famous dagger workshop and store in Old Sanaa.
Hussein Mohamad al-Azizi, the family patriarch, says the dagger is an essential accessory, a
Yemeni tradition just like the ‘Oqal’, the white head dress worn by men in the Gulf. His son Hussein Hussein al-Azizi believes the dagger is a symbol of power and honor for Yemeni men.
Yemeni daggers consist of three parts. The first is the handle, which determines the price of the dagger based on the material used. The second part is the blade, and the third is the belt used to carry the dagger on the waist.
The fanciest and most expensive daggers are the ‘Seifani’, with handles made of the horn of a rhinoceros. These have become rare since the hunting and trade of rhinoceros parts was banned by international agreement.
The second level, ‘Ivory’, are daggers with handles made from the tusks of elephants. The third level, ‘Kerk’, have handles made of the horns of bulls. The lowest level, mainly manufactured in China, have handles of wood, fiberglass or plastic.
Hussein Hussein al-Azizi, Merchant:
(00:41-01:29) I carry the Dagger, because it is an accessory for myself, and a pride for all the Yemenis. It is not a weapon as many consider, it is an accessory for men, and they used it in the old times as a weapon when they used to travel from a city to another or from a village to another, and because Yemen is a wild area full of mountains, and because many wild animals are spread across the area, in that case it is used as a weapons for protection, for the lack of guns and mechanic weapons.
(01:37-02:20) What makes my dagger special is, apart from the fact that a man always prefers his own possessions, that it is made from the horn of a rhinoceros. I believe it is really special and better than other jambiyas and it is worth $10,000. There are even more luxurious ones but I believe in the old proverb which says, "My beast is better than the King's horse."
(02:26-03:09) The yemeni dagger has many usages, such as in weddings, it is used as an accessory specially by the groom, and it is essential in “al-Baraa” dance (traditional Yemeni dance). What differs the daggers is the shape and the way it is made. What determine its price is the shape and the type of horn it is made of.
Hussein Mohamad al-Azizi, Dagger Workshop Owner:
(04:27-06:47) It is made from the horn of the rhinoceros, dates back to the time of Bin Zi Yazan .
Dagger initially became popular because they are the main aspect of the Yemeni accessory. Daggers differ from city to another and from a village to another. For example; in Saade province, dagger have a specific shape, different from the one in Maareb, Taaz al-Mohabsha, Al-hadarmi, and Sanaa, which has a very special collection.
The best dagger currently is al-Azizi dagger, and al-Sefani, which dates back to 400-600 years. It is made from the horn Rhinoceros. There is a difference between the daggers made from the horn of the Rhinoceros and the Kerk dagger made from the horn of bulls, and the Chinese dagger, which ruined the market.
There has been a ban on hunting rhinos since 1982 enforced by The United Nations, especially for Yemenis, so we had to rely on Kerk daggers made of bull’s horns, so we can keep selling and not lose our profession and preserve this Yemeni accessory. Each country has it’s own accessory type, in Oman for example they used daggers, in the Gulf they use “Oqal” (the white head dress), every country has its own traditions.
I want to correct some misunderstood information about daggers; they say that Yemenis use daggers used as weapons. I want to correct this piece of information to say that; they used them as weapons back in the time when they used to travel from a city to another, and go through long roads, and face wild animals, that is the only case when they used daggers as weapons. Other than that case, they are only used as an accessory, even 2-4 year old children carry daggers that are made for them, different from al-Sefani daggers.
(07:04-07:32) As for the blade, the sharp metal part, we get it from Hadramout, We have different types, Jubi, Adani (from Adan), Taazi (from Taaz), Senaani (from Sanaa). I currently have all types.
Various shots of daggers in al-Azizi shop
Various shots show the production of the daggers in al-Aziz workshop
Various shots of grooms with daggers on their waists
Various shots of grooms dancing “al-Baraa” traditional Yemeni dance in a mass wedding