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A Well Travelled Warrior

 October 9, 2023    Asian Arms

This is a particularly interesting dha sword from Burma, most likely from the Ava region, it is a very large example with a blade of unusual quality and a finally made silver hilt. Dha are notoriously difficult to pin down due to a lack of archeological record and published typologies. There tends to be an extremely wide variety of variations seen according to the preferences of the owners and users of these swords. However there are at times characteristics of blade shape and hilt attributes that help to narrow down the probabilities. 

In this case, this clipped tip style can be observed in both swords from Burma and Siam, but seems to have been more common with Burmese examples, while often associated with the Kachin, it is not a type exclusive to them. The lotus bud silver pommel style seen here is characteristic of Burmese examples as well, depicting a lotus bud, perhaps best known from the very elaborate examples with decorated blades. The ferrule is also telling as Siam examples of this age would often have an inner ferrule and then an outer ferrule, while this has only one. This starts to help narrow the geography of the sword. The silver decoration points to a sword held by a person of some rank, although not the gold or samrit characteristic of swords associated with the top ranking court officials and generals. Without a collection note or provenance it is of course impossible to say exactly what rank or person once owned it.

Dating these swords is also difficult at times, however the combination of decoration, patina, blade form and size strongly suggest this is a mid to late 18th century sword. Of course this is subjective, but swords of this type would have been used during the Burmese invasions of Siam as well as their border conflicts with Qing China.

This is a classic case of "if only it could talk" there is a decent chance this sword would have quite a tale to tell. The size alone marks this immediately when viewed next to other examples. At 113cm overall it dwarfs most examples, with a much larger diameter grip and weighing nearly twice as much as most. This does not mean it is impossible to use this one handed like most dha were wielded, but increases the likelihood this was used two-handed. 

The blade is also unusual, featuring a fullered spine, not a common feature on dha, but something also encountered in a subset of Chinese swords. This transitions into a couple of bevels further along the spine.

The blade has obviously seen use and has some edge rolling, however it has been very well maintained with virtually no corrosion. This is a nice change from many weapons from the region which often suffer heavy corrosion due to the humidity of the region. This may also indicate a fairly early collection date, or simply a (or series of) caring owner.  The hilt consists of four distinct sections, plus the pommel and guard sections. The condition is quite good with some wear and denting in spots. 

It is difficult to view this sword and not be reminded of a Chinese dao in some respects. Dha of this form and size are perhaps an under appreciated sub category of the type, although rare compared to the majority that emerge in museums or amongst private collectors.