Khyber Salawar Ribbed Horn Grips

CA3 Khyber Salawar

Code: CA3

This is a very large Khyber Salawar from the late 19th Century, probably brought to the West by a British officer who served in the region (one of the few sources of these knives).  The blade alone is 25 inches, in the characteristic “T” shortape.  Brass mounted ribbed horn grips, with brass tang covers embellished with the circle patterns favored by the Afghan Khyber tribes (see my Lohar for another example).

khyber Salawar hilt decoration

The Khyber knife, or short sword, is also called “Charay”, “Churra”, and sometimes “Salawar Yatagan”, although these days the sword is well known by the name “Khyber”.  It is the traditional side arm of the Afridis, Ghilzais, the Khyberies and other tribes living in and near the Khyber Pass, a mountain pass connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan, “controlled” by Pakistan. It is the main road from Peshawar, Pakistan to Kabul, Afghanistan, varying in width from 3 to 137 m. The mountains on either side can be climbed only in a few places. The pass is walled by steep cliffs that vary in height from about 180 to 300 m., a fact which for centuries made it a strategic point on an important road from India to the west. The pass reaches its highest elevation at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Typically, the blade of a Khyber is straight and heavy with the single-edged blade tapering from the hilt to the point.  All the finesse of a cleaver (a job it can perform quite well).  With the strong “T” shaped blade, it is well suited for both thrusting (strong enough to penetrate chain mail) as well as slashing. 

khyber Salawar hilt detail

The hilt has no guard, and is typically formed of two flat pieces of horn, bone or ivory riveted to the flat tang.  This Khyber has a hilt made of horn.  The Khyber is similar to both the Kard and the Afghan Choora dagger in style.

Lord Egerton of Tatton, in his book “Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour”, relates a fight between two Afghan tribes:

“Both sides had some horse and some hundred Jailumees (champions, distinguished by a fantastic dress, and bound to conquer or die). The rest were a mob, some in thick quilted jackets, some in coats of mail, and others in leathern cuirasses, all armed with with bows or matchlocks, and with swords, shields, long Afghan knives, and iron spears.  When the armies came in sight they at first fired on each other; afterwards the Jailumess turned out and engaged with the sword; and at the last the main bodies cam into close combat.”

The Sepoy of India, the Imperial British, and many others have met their match among the tribes of the mountains of the Khyber Pass. The picture below is of a 19th century print of Indian Sepoy being attacked by Afghan warriors with Khyber knives.