Marsh Arab Jambiya


DSC 2780

Code AN40

This jimbiya is typical of the "Marsh Arabs" of southern Iraq  (Arabic: عرب الأهوار‎ ʻArab al-Ahwār "Arabs of the Marshlands"). Also known as the Maʻdān (Arabic: معدان‎), they are inhabitants of the Tigris-Euphrates marshlands in the south and east of Iraq and along the Iranian border. With the draining of the marshes, a retribution by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for the Basra uprising in 1991, most Marsh Arabs were displaced from their traditional homes. As a result, this design is now found outside the marsh region throughout southern Iraq.

Like the Kurdish khanjar, the Marsh Arab jambiya is an initiation weapon first given to boys when they become men. 

The overall length of this jambiya is xxx inches.  The deeply curved blade is yyy inches long with a slight diamond cross section, sometimes referred to as a curved medial ridge.

The hilt is carved from a single solid piece of horn, probably ox. The pommel is very distinctive of the Marsh Arabs. The crested "drooping" pommel (also known as a "hooked" pommel) is elegant.

The scabbard is silver, mounted on a typical wooden inner piece. It is decorated profusely with embossed and chased geometric designs. Unlike most weapons from predominantly Muslim groups, the scabbard design includes a small representation of a palm tree and bird. This may owe to the continued existence of pre-Islamic or extra-Islamic beliefs among members of the Maʻdān, including small communities of Aramaic speaking non-Arab ethnic Mandeans.

The scabbard is also decorated with turquoise and carnelian stones. The use of turquoise is unusual, but Elgood (citation?) wrote about Central Asian Bukharan masters working in the Arabian region, and this design is suggestive of Bukhara, the capital city of Uzbekistan, which lies along the Silk Road. The predominate ethnic group in Bukhara are Persian-speaking Tajiks, and their language no doubt facilitated work in the Iraq/Iran border region such as found in the marsh lands. 

Read more about Janbiya / jambiya in my collection.

Village of the Marsh Arabs; Maʻdān Village in the Marshlands of Southern Iraq

Maʻdān Village in the Marshlands of Southern Iraq

While the Marsh Arabs are comprised of members from many different tribes and tribal confederations, such as the Āl Bū Muḥammad, Ferayghāt, Shaghanbah and Banī Lām, the Maʻdān developed a unique culture centered on the marshes' natural resources. Maʻdān means "dweller in the plains (ʻadan)". The people who farm in the river basins refer to them as "Maida" (Anu).  The origins of the Maʻdān are still a matter of study. British colonial ethnographers speculated that some of the Maʻdān social customs might have originated in India. Other scholars have proposed links between the Marsh Arabs and the ancient Sumerians. This speculation based on shared agricultural practices and methods of house building. The same communal mudhif buildings seen in marsh culture today have also been seen depicted on Sumerian seals from 5000 years ago. There is, however, no written record of the marsh tribes until the ninth century AD, and the Sumerians were absorbed by the Akkadians (Assyrians-Babylonians) by around 1800 BC, some 2,700 years before, so that connection is purely speculative. Others, however, have more reliably noted that much of the culture of the Maʻdān is in fact shared with the desert bedouin who came to the area after the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate, and that it is therefore likely that they are descended from this source, at least in part.

More jambiya in my collection