Yemeni Aseeb Jambiya

Yemeni Jambiya

Code:  AN28

This is a very good example of an ‘aseeb (assib) janbiya with a “saifani" horn hilt from Yemen c. mid-20th C.  

The leather scabbard, or "white" scabbard, is decorated with leather threads refrerred to as "tarsha".  It is an everyday scabbard that can be easily replaced. Nevertheless, details of its design reveal information about the wearer.  Notice the curve at the bottom of the scabbard. If held vertically against an imaginary clock face, does the tip point to seven o'clock or nine o'clock?  If the former, it is of the Bakeeli tribe.  This one points to nine o'clock and so indicates the Hashid tribal confederation.  

The aged color of the saifani horn hilt on this janbiya is greenish-yellow color called "Asadi". The most important part of the janbiya is the hilt, especially the material used in its manufacture. Hilts may be made from wood, horn, silver, gold, amber and more recently, plastic.  Most hilts are made from horn - it is beautiful, durable, lightweight, and does not slip in the hand. Rhino horn was (and remains) the preferred type of horn, although now that trade in rhino horn is banned internationally it is only available on the black market and is very expensive.  Ivory hilted janbiya, or saifani, are the most famous. It is often worn as a sign of high social status, typically by the Hashimites (an Arab tribe which claims direct descent from the prophet Muhammed, PBUH), judges, wealthy merchants and businessmen. 

The coins on the hilt are brass imitations of silver Venetian ducats. Originals (pre-1948) are prized for their conference of special status upon the owner. The pins are steel and the strip at the base of the hilt is silver.

The blade on this janbiya, like most others, is nothing special.  While it can be drawn in times of exceptional threat, in everyday life the janbiya is an accessory that remains in its scabbard.  This blade is better than average, as indicated by the wide central ridge. Some experts assert that a flick of the index fingernail on the blade can reveal its quality. If it goes "diiing" or "piiing" then it is of poor quality. This one exudes a dull "thud", indicating a superior blade.

Similar to some edged weapons in other cultures, the Yemeni janbiya has symbolic social meaning.  It is often inherited and when worn indicates loyalty to tribal norms as well as signalling individual prestige.

The janbiya is the main accessory to the clothing worn by Yemeni men.  A man’s janbiya is carefully protected and worn for life; almost an indispensable part of their personalities. In Yemen, no man is complete without his jambiya.

The Jewish artisans of Yemen proved to be great geniuses in manufacturing the janbiya and it became their exclusive profession. Individuals and sometimes entire families gained celebrity for their fine workmanship of the janbiya.

Like many edged weapons in other cultures, the jambiya has acquired a history of magical thinking.  There are stories of jambiya’s used to treat snakebites, and others that are helpful in recovery from traffic accidents!

Many people in the Hajjah region of Yemen believe that some janbiyas make one’s skin and face shine when they are worn.

The janbiya is worn around the waist in many cases towards the side. The name “Janbiya” is from “jamb” which in Arabic means “side”.  

He who abandons his janbiya, whatever the conditions, would be defamed by his peers and acquaintances.  (Officials and government employees are forbidden to wear their janbiyas during working hours, judges, MPs and sheikhs are exempted.)

Furthermore, the janbiya should never come out of its sheath except in extreme cases ... or when it is used in the famous Yemeni dance called “bara’a”.

AN28 Yemeni Janbiya-Hilt

For more information about janbiyas, read this special section.

Read more about Janbiya / jambiya in my collection.