A lobar pick-axe from Afrghanistan

Code:  CA6

The Lohar is a pick-type weapon from the Banochie (Bannochi), a tribe in Afghanistan living near the Khyber Pass.  Lohars were used with great effect against the British cavalry units during the early Afghan wars. The word “lohar” means “smith” or “metal smith”.  This lohar dates from the late 19th to early 20th century.  The lohar is sometimes called a crow bill.  Each man makes his own and has his own individual decoration patterns, although all are similar.  It has beautiful bone grips with a 5 inch blade and measuring 12 inches overall.  The grips and brass works are decorated overall in the distinctive Afghan style, with inlaid brass and silver. The birdseye talisman is the most prominent motif.

The lohar is made for fighting, replacing the sword among the Khyber tribes that use them.   There are several variations of lohar. This lohar is a folding version and was intended for concealment.  Despite being perhaps 200 years old, the iron and brass mechanism works smoothly to open and lock the blade. The lohar is also a status symbol, manufactured by the owner with a richness in materials and decorations.

One ethnographic weapons expert writes,

“On the 'lohar'axe from India: The Bannuchi were an Afghan tribe who were situated in Bannu, Northwest Frontier Province (Derajat Division) along with several other Pathan tribes. The term 'lohar' refers to an Indo-Aryan language or dialect but more importantly the term refers to a community of itinerant blacksmiths and tinkerers of these regions. Note the similarity of these axes to the 'zaghnal' war axes of India, and consider the possibility of these 'lohar' being interpretations of those war axes of India. It is interesting to note the similarity to the crow or raven head type throwing knives of Africa, similarly hafted weapons.The diffusion of weapon forms knows no geographic boundaries, and trade was a tenacious vehicle that had no sense of distance or time."

The history of the lohar is very obscure.  They are rarely found outside Afghanistan.  The decorations match those of Baluchistan whip handles.  Dedicated ethnographers have been unable to locate a historical photograph or illustration of a Khyber tribesman with a lohar.  Some theorize that the lohar is related to religious worship while others, with martial arts and weapons knowledge, struggle to find a convincing way to use the lohar as a weapon in preference to other weapons available to the tribesman. It is not disputed that it actually used to great effect against the British mounted units in the Afghan wars; the question of how it was used remains a mystery.

A senior member of the Ethnographic Edged Weapons Forum who is very knowledgeable about the martial arts, responded to a number of the theories under discussion:

“Some observations of my own: I've handled several lohar, both the standard and the folding kind, and I definitely agree that it is not a battlefield weapon - the ergonomics of efficient use just aren't there. Small sickle weapons do not beat guns, swords, and lances. Stealth weapon? Nope. You don't try to hamstring a huge animal with a small sickle, no matter how sneaky you may be. Ritual/religious/status object grown from a tool into a weapon? Now we're getting closer, but that's not it. Here's a term no one's put on the table: "cultural identifier". Let's think about what we know - every adult male carries one and at least theoretically makes or decorates/designs his own .... they evolved from single piece items to a two part-folder to an even more easily carried three-part folding version .... hmm ... sounds like something that everyone in the group has on hand for every day use, and its particular shape/configuration carried on down through the years because that's the type of weapon/tool that great-grandpa and grandpa and dad and all of their compadres carried.

The lohar: a useful, traditional, tool-and-weapon-of-convenience that also shows your Bannochi pride!”

My theory:  The lohar is a pick axe, for safety while climbing the icy cliffs of the mountains of the Khyber.