A note on identifying the origin of dha type swords from continental southeast Asia:

  • If the spine is straight (or mostly straight), it is probably from Burma.
  • If the spine curves slightly, it is probably from Thailand
  • If the spine curves significantly, then it is probably from Laos
  • The more detailed carving and other tooling, the more likely from Laos

The geographic region of origin is often much harder to discern than the ethnic group that produced the sword. In this part of the world, there has been a great intermingling of peoples. Certain groups may spread across two, three or more national borders. The Lao smiths have been considered some of the finest, and many moved into Thailand and settled in areas such as Chiang Mai and Lampang (north), Uttaradit (north central), Ayutthaya (central) and Nakhon Si Thamarat.

"Dha" is a Burmese term that simply means "blade."  The corresponding term in Thai is "daab," or "darb."  Western collectors use the term dha to refer to both swords and knives of various lengths from multiple continental southeast Asian cultures.  Dha (also spelled dah or dhaw) is the Burmese word for "knife." The term dha is conventionally used refer to a wide variety of knives and swords used by many people across Indochina, especially present-day Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam as well as the Assam region west of Burma where such swords were traded to, or captured by, the various Naga tribes.

There are considerable local variations to the dha form, but in general it can be classified as a single edged member of the saber family.  This sword length dha is called “dha-myaung” (dha-hmyaung).  The dha-myaung was the favored fighting sword of the Burmese tribes who opposed the British campaign to add the area to their empire.  Most surviving dhas of that era returned as the booty of British officers (however, we must thank them for preserving the weapons for history).  The "dha-lwe" is a small, short version of the sword suitable for discreet carry and personal defense.  There are mid-size variations of the dha, such as my dha-myaung from Burma and my Hmong dha, that are useful for chores, agriculture and defense if needed.

Dha vary considerably according to locality but they share a few features the define them apart from other weapons and tools of Southeast Asia. These features are a round cross-section grip, a long, gently curving blade (sometimes upward, other times downward in the direction of use) with a single edge, and no guard. Knives and swords with these characteristics are viewed by ethnic groups of the region as being of a single type, albeit with variations arising from local style and tradition. There are a large number of possible shapes for the tip, with upswept, down swept, squared-off and spear-like varieties all being found. The blades are often inscribed, which can range from a simple maker's mark to quite intricate designs that may also feature inlays.

Hilts range from hand-width to quite long. A blade/hilt length ratio of 2:1 is not uncommon. Despite these long handles, most dha are meant for single-handed use, although some two-handed weapons exist. Guards are small, if present at all. Thai daab may have a guard similar to the tsuba of the Japanese katana. The Montagnard dha may have a guard that barely exceeds the diameter of the handle and they can be regarded more as a spacer. The construction of the hilt varies widely by type and region or origin. Hilts range from simple wood, possibly wrapped in rattan or covered in ray skin, to elaborately worked silver and ivory. Pommels may or may not be present. Scabbards are made from two strips of wood, often bamboo, secured by metal bands, rattan (e.g., "village" dha) , or completely wrapped in metal.


The Swords of Continental Southeast Asia

Continental Southeast Asia Swords List

The Dha Research Index

The Burmese Dha

Synonyms: dha,  dah, daab, dahb, darb, dai dao