Kabui Naga Dao


Code: IP1

A rare and difficult piece to identify, this is a sword whose shape is typical of the Kabui (Ruangmei,Rongmei) Naga tribe just outside the Brahmaputra Valley near Manipur, Assam, India.  A smaller version, shown in the picture below, is typically unsharpened is for ceremonial purposes as in the dance shown. 

"The ceremonial dao of the Kabuis is of interest because it differs from the ordinary dao. It is shaped with a double curve on the cutting edge, and is carried by the men when dancing or performing in gala dress." - The Naga Tribes of Manipur, by T.C. Hodson, Macmillan and Co. 1911

However, this sword is much larger and has an edge that remains quite sharp. It is an extremely rare version of the ceremonial dao that is also suitable as a weapon. It has rich brass and copper decoration that are typical of a neighboring tribe, the Kuki Naga.  So it may be a crossover piece, or one that was traded by the Kabui to the Kuki Nagas.

The blade is hand-forged with a nice smooth light gray age patina. One side is beautifully inlaid with hundreds of brass circles and half moon shapes, very labor intensive. There are two holes in the blade, one near the tip and one in the middle.  These are designed to allow brightly colored tassels to be hung on the sword during traditional dance. The other side of the blade along the back has a very unique feature copper and brass forged into the steel near the spine of the blade. The effect is quite striking when light catches the blade. In some cultures, copper is believed to have a power of “spell bleaching”. Thus, copper-bearing weapons are the first choice when dealing with someone with spiritual protection (such as an amulet, tattoo).   The Kuki Naga tribe is older and closely related to the Kabuis.  They are known to richly decorate their swords with brass.

This sharply curved blade, heavily weighted in the zone of maximum percussion, has a wooden hilt that accomodates either a one or two-handed grip to assure a strong and deadly blow. The overall length is 25 1/2 inches with a 16 inch blade.  It is significantly larger than the one pictured in the Kabui dance.  

Unlike the Kachin Naga who live in the hills near and inside Burma, the Kabui Naga are not known for headhunting.

See: More pictures of the Kabui dance.

Read more about the Naga

Kabui Naga Dao spatulate blade tip

Kabui Naga Dao Blade Detail showing hammered copper

Old image of kabui naga dao from the Chachar, Assam, Victoria and Albert Museum