Handmade Yemeni Daggers, 10,000 Dollars and Up

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In Yemen it is rare to see a man in public without a traditional dagger, known as a ‘Jambiya’, on his waist. Although they barely have any practical use, the ceremonial daggers have been an integral part of the male Yemeni identity for centuries. While outsiders perceive the dagger as a type of weapon, Hussein al-Azizi insists that it is solely for decoration and a symbol of power and honor.

  • Hussein Hussein al-Azizi, Merchant, (man, Arabic): “I carry a Dagger, because it is an accessory for myself, and a pride for all the Yemenis. It is not a weapon as many consider it to be, it is an accessory for men to wear, it was used as a weapon in the old times when people traveled from one village to another as protection since they did not have guns.”

Some Yemeni men spend fortunes on their jambiya. It is not unheard of for a man to spend over 10,000 dollars on this accessory as Hussein did.

  • Hussein Hussein al-Azizi, Merchant, (man, Arabic): “What makes my dagger special is 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."

This workshop owned by Hussein Mohamad al-Azizi in the old city in Sanaa, has been producing traditional jambiyas for generations. Today it has adapted and specializes in handles made of bull’s horns, since the more desirable materials of ivory and rhinoceros’ horn have been banned.

  • Hussein Mohamad al-Azizi, Dagger Workshop Owner, (man, Arabic): “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.”

The jambiya consist of the belt, used to keep the dagger on the waist, the blade forged from steel, and most importantly the handle, which determines the quality and price of the jambiya.

The most superior and expensive knives, known as “Seifani”, have handles carved from rhinoceros’ horn. The second best, “Aaji”, have handles made of ivory. Due to hunting regulations, both these types of daggers are now rare. The next level down is made of bull’s horn and called “Kerk”. The lowest have handles made of wood, fiberglass

  • Hussein Mohamad al-Azizi, Dagger Workshop Owner, (man, Arabic): “The best dagger currently at al-Azizi dagger shop is al-Sefani, which dates back 400-600 years. It is made from rhinoceros’ horn. There is a difference between the daggers made from the horn of a rhinoceros and the Kerk dagger made from the horn of bulls, and the Chinese dagger, made out of wood and fiberglass, which overran and ruined the market.”

It is considered shameful if a man pulls out his jambiya in a confrontation, instead it is used in joyous celebrations. The jambiya decorated the waist of the groom at Yemeni weddings and is an essential part of al-Baraa traditional dance.