Janbiya / Jambiya

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The Janbiya (“Jambiya”) and variants, including Koumiya, Shabria, Khanjar, Khanjarli. There is a long history of the janbiya.  Evidence of the oldest janbiyas show they were worn in Sheban times, in the Himiarite kingdom; a statue of the Sheban king dating from 500 B.C. includes a janbiya. Today, the janbiya is the main customary accessory to the clothing worn by traditionally garbed Arab men. A man’s janbiya is carefully protected and worn for life; almost an indispensable part of their personalities. It is said that no man is complete without his janbiya.

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. That tradition in Yemen largely ended when virtually all Jewish Yemenis migrated to Israel around 1949.

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, either vertically in front (as with the Yemeni 'aseeb janbiya) or angled (as with the Yemini tuza jambiya), or horizontally at the waist in front (e.g., the Saudi-Yemeni dharia). The name “janbiya” is from “jamb” which in Arabic means “side”.  The man in this photo has his turned towards the front, typical of those who carry this type of jambiya, called a "Dharia".

He who abandons his janbiya, whatever the conditions, would be defamed by his peers and acquaintances. Furthermore, tradition says the janbiya should never come out of its sheath except in extreme cases ... or when it is used in ceremony, for example, the khanjar in the famous Yemeni dance called “bara’a”.


A Variety of Janbiya